LEE COUNTY: Opinions mixed on strategic plan

Sep. 18, 2013 @ 05:02 AM

After months of community forums, interviews and summits, the long-awaited Lee County economic strategic plan left county commissioners with ranging degrees of satisfaction.

The Lee County Board of Commissioners got its first look at a nearly 100-page document during its meeting Monday, and at least one commissioner called the plan disappointing.

“About three years ago, this county went through a Second Century project,” said Commissioner Jim Womack. “And in that Second Century project, they had more specific and measurable objectives then you’ve got in this one. And that was three years ago, and you had the benefit of that to consume along with all the other things that you did.”

The presented document consists of goals, he said — not measurable objectives like the commissioners asked for. What has been delivered, Womack said, is a set of lofty ideas and assumptions.

“This is a personal opinion of mine, and I haven’t consulted with the rest of the commission on this because I’m seeing it for the first time tonight,” he said. “But my expectations were much higher than this.”

Womack’s comments came after a 20-minute PowerPoint presentation by Southern Growth Policies Board Executive Director Ted Abernathy and North Carolina’s Business and Technology Extension Service Program Director Dan Parks, who were contracted by the commissioners to complete the economic growth action plan.

Abernathy said, in response to Womack’s remarks, that they were contracted to create a strategic action plan instead of an economic development plan, and that their work ran parallel to the creation of a new organization that would focus on economic development.

“We don’t know who is going to be doing what with [regard to] the structure of economic development,” Abernathy said. “So we couldn’t get that yet.”

Womack countered Abernathy by asking if he knew who was paying their bill. 

The new organization, which will include the Lee County Economic Development Corporation and the Sanford Area Chamber of Commerce, is set to complete its draft structure by Jan. 1.

Commissioner Amy Dalrymple disagreed with Womack’s assessment of the plan, adding that she liked the flexibility of the working document.

“I think we are looking at this, shocker, from opposite sides,” Dalrymple said. “I like what I have seen so far. Where you like the targeted, specific goals, I like the flexibility of the strategic plan. ... In my mind, it’s a great framework.”

Lee County Commissioner Chairman Charlie Parks said he wanted to review the plan before making a judgment call, but that he believed he was somewhere in the middle between Womack and Dalrymple.

He asked for Lee County Manager John Crumpton to post the document on the county’s website, and, at the behest of Commissioner Robert Reives, to send the document to key business, government, civic and educational groups for feedback.

The six goals listed in the strategic plan are as follows:

* Provide clear economic leadership

* Tell the Lee County story better

* Improve the Lee County product

* Reinvent economic development delivery

* Promote diversified economic growth

* Evaluate, select and apply clear metrics to gauge success

“It really was reinforced to us that Lee County is in the center of a lot of things,” Dan Parks said. “So an underlying theme of our presentation and our recommendations is ‘Lee County as a center of progress.’”

The key component to implementing the plan is determining what the Lee County story, and turning that story into a mantra. Each of the six goals included strategies for the commissioners to obtain those objectives. For example, the “Improving the Lee County product goal” listed maintaining and enhancing existing assets, monitoring and improving the business climate, improving the demonstrational skills of the workforce, improving educational attainment rates and increasing work experience opportunities for students as strategies.

The commissioners have three contracts with Parks and Abernathy, totaling $46,975.