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Mar. 03, 2013 @ 05:01 AM

THUMBS UP: Collaboration

The term “collaboration” was mentioned numerous times during Friday’s Economic Development Summit. The summit provided a venue for local leaders (elected officials, executives from the City of Sanford, Town of Broadway and host Lee County Board of Commissioners), invited guests and the public to hear presentations and discussions about “how we got here” — “here” being a county with a diversified manufacturing base, but an unemployment rate (and accompanying poverty rate) reflective of the downturn in the economy (plus a few other negatives not specifically related to recent recessions).

Data provided showed Lee County faring better than some of our neighbors in some categories, and worse in others. But pre-summit surveys and comments made Friday also made clear that those polled felt strongly the status quo needed to change. Part of Friday’s session was devoted to unveiling a proposal — also termed by creators as an idea, a starting point — for creating a brand-new corporation, a single-entity public-private collaboration for economic and community development. Consensus at the summit was that the proposal should be pursued.

Pursuing it will require — as is no surprise — collaboration. In order to develop a strategic plan for a new entity (which would essentially dissolve the Sanford Area Chamber of Commerce and the Lee County Economic Development Corporation, plus any entity that would address visitor marketing and event promotion, into a single new corporation), unprecedented collaboration will have to occur. Public funding bodies, private investors, elected leaders and the community as a whole would need to embrace the concept; indeed the concept was embraced Friday. What the corporation could help create — small business development, existing business retention, large employer recruitment, infrastructure enhancement, retail development and beautification, just to name a few — could change Lee County in profound ways.

The fact that collaboration is a discipline which hasn’t been perfected in Lee County shouldn’t be a deterrent for naysayers. Everything good about Lee County — and yes, it’s a pretty long list — had a “first creation.” A new level of collaboration is the only thing keeping our next first — and maybe best — creation from taking shape.

One draft goal of the corporation is “to create a globally competitive economy for the Lee County area, grounded in research, reflecting best practices, and leverage our area’s key assets.”

Who wouldn’t want our county’s economy to be globally competitive? Who wouldn’t like to see more workforce development and cultural enhancement and less poverty and need?

Friday’s summit, which required collaboration to begin with, can be more than just a turning point for Lee County. It can be the starting point for a new future that moves Lee County to a very new and different place from where it finds itself right now.

We’re eager to report the next steps.