LOOKING BACK AT 2013: EDC, Chamber becoming one

Jan. 01, 2014 @ 04:58 AM

For years, organizations, political entities and individuals have tried to push Lee County toward economic prosperity with varying degrees of success. In 2013, several groups rallied together to form one organization charged with the economic success of the area.

Rumblings of merging the Sanford Area Chamber of Commerce and the Lee County Economic Development Corporation arguably began while the future of the EDC was in flux after the departure of the then EDC Director Bob Huets in late 2012. A memorandum of understanding, highlighting the basic functions and intentions of a new economic development organization, was approved by the Lee County Board of Commissioners, Sanford City Council, Broadway Board of Commissioners, Sanford Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and Economic Development Corporation Board throughout the spring of this year, and a steering committee consisting of business, political and community leaders was called on to flesh out the program of work.

"We finally seem to have all of our energy in the same direction to try and create an environment to have more jobs in the county," EC Board Chairman Donnie Oldham said in a 2013 interview. "That is where we are all headed and pulling in that direction."

Community input, through a series of meetings during the development of the county's economic strategic plan and online surveys, was solicited, and meetings with the area governing bodies shaped the outline of the new group — called the Sanford-Lee County Partnership for Prosperity, to the following:

* Support education and workforce development

* New business recruitment

* Retain and expand existing business

* Small business and entrepreneur development

* Product development

* Agriculture development

* Develop tourism and visitor services

* Enhance quality of life

* Market Lee County

* Support infrastructure development

* Leadership development

The Partnership for Prosperity is set to be divided into five subcommittees focused on agriculture, chamber-like activities, economic development, investor advisors and marketing and promotions.

The steering committee was named the interim board of directors for the Partnership for Prosperity, and the group is in the middle of a private fundraising drive, which will ultimately determine the scope of work for the organization.

The journey for the entity has just begun, with the board of directors tasked with budgeting and staffing the new organization while helping the fledging group off its feet. And Lee County Commissioners and Sanford City Council members have discussed within the last month housing the group under the same roof as the city-county planning department, possibly in the Buggy Factory on  Chatham Street.

"I think you have to look at it from a standpoint of change," Chamber President Bob Joyce said in a previous interview. "This sets the tone for a long time into the future, and, I think, we need to be very deliberate setting up this organization."