Economic development discussions continue

Feb. 07, 2013 @ 05:01 AM

The Sanford Area Chamber of Commerce and the Lee County Economic Development Corporation Board continued preliminary discussions about their potential merger during a joint meeting Wednesday afternoon.

Both groups agreed to form a task force, with delegates from each board and representatives from the three local governmental bodies, to outline the funding and structure of an umbrella organization to oversee economic development in Lee County.

Restructuring won’t solve any underlying problems the contributing groups may have, said Creative Economic Development Consulting CEO Crystal Morphis, but it can reinforce and streamline efforts. Creative is contracted to oversee economic development for Lee County for the next three months.

The task force should also devise a shared stakeholder philosophy, said Sanford Attorney Susan Patterson. The group should determine what businesses Lee County wants to attract and how they should be attracted, she said at the meeting. 

Lee County Manager John Crumpton said the county commissioners are very interested in lowering

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its percentage of funding of the EDC as private industry begins to contribute more. More than 65 percent of the funding for the EDC now comes from Lee County, Crumpton said, and many commissioners want to see more involvement by private industry.

Commissioners are undergoing an economic strategic plan for the county and trying to determine the best method of moving forward in Lee County, he said. An economic summit for Lee County stakeholders is scheduled for March 1 as part of the economic planning.

One suggestion, by Lee County Commissioner Jim Womack, was a pay-to-play model for the EDC board — meaning a certain dollar amount would guarantee a seat on the EDC Board — to encourage more private investment.

The City of Sanford is open to any structure for an economic development group, said Sanford Manager Hal Hegwer, who added that the council would also welcome more private input. 

Broadway Town Manager Bob Stevens said he believed his board is agreeable to any organizational structure, but the pay-to-play model might put Broadway at a disadvantage.

“We get the same benefit if an industry comes to the county because it’s employment for our residents,” Stevens said. “But we certainly like having a seat at the table and knowing what goes on.”

The task force was charged to meet before the economic summit, followed by a joint meeting between the EDC board and chamber of commerce.