New group would sway growth

Private companies and business people soon might have more influence over and give more clout to economic development in York County.

The York County Economic Development Board is trying to establish a private, nonprofit organization to raise money and act in a supporting role for the board.

The group, to be called York County Growth Partners Inc., will be comprised of members who pay to join the organization. The money will create an endowment for the economic development board and will be used to market the county and to help recruit new industries. In exchange, the group will be involved in recruiting industry; three Growth Partners members will be appointed to the economic development board.

"This opens up a direct opportunity for people to donate their time, their talent and their money towards economic development," said York attorney Jim Bradford, a board member who has researched the project.

Plans to establish the group are being reviewed by board members and the county attorney this month. A decision to move forward, which will require amending a county ordinance, could take place early next year.

Bradford said York County Growth Partners will be similar to a group in Florence, called Florence County Progress Inc., where close to $500,000 in private cash supplements tax dollars already at work attracting jobs and economic growth.

He said the York County model will allow businesses, organizations and individuals to join at different levels. A board of directors elected by the members will oversee the actions and finances of the group. The board will elect three members to serve four-year terms on the county's economic development board.

Competitive disadvantage

Mark Farris, director of the economic development board, said public-private partnerships already exist in most counties in South Carolina, including neighboring Chester County.

"We are conspicuous in South Carolina that we don't already have one of these," Farris told the board last week.

The lack of a private group was a competitive disadvantage when the county recently recruited Oregon-based truckmaker Freightliner to the Lake Wylie area, Farris said. Nearby groups in Charlotte and Mooresville, N.C., had private groups willing to pitch in relocation assistance for Freightliner, while York County didn't have that capability.

Farris said South Carolina state incentives helped make up the difference for Freightliner, but he emphasized the competitive advantage of being able to offer local incentives.

Influenced by builders

Discussion of a private development group has been under way for several years in York County. Talks heated up recently after Community Builders, an informal association of city, county, education and business leaders, began looking for more input on county development.

After Community Builders was criticized for not being diverse, economic development officials tried to tailor Growth Partners to attract members from a broad spectrum.

Rob Youngblood, the director of the York County Regional Chamber of Commerce, a member of Community Builders, said Growth Partners will fulfill the Community Builders' top priority of gaining input on economic development.

"We think it's a good move," Youngblood said. "Other communities have this and it has been helpful. Getting more parties involved helps broaden the scope of economic development."

Farris said caution has been taken to ensure public and private money don't mix. The economic development board will continue to operate as a branch of the county government.

Growth Partners would operate with separate accounts of private money used to supplement the existing board. The three representatives to the economic development board will be elected by the group's leaders, not based on their monetary contributions.

Former York County Economic Development Board chairman Bayles Mack, a Fort Mill attorney, said the creation of Growth Partners is overdue.

"We needed it back in 1979, when we started the Economic Development Board," Mack said. "I just hope the county will see it as the right thing to do, and I'm sure they will. Public-private partnerships are the way of the future."