Don Worthington

More work needs to be done in restructuring York County’s Economic Development Board

Expect a fight when efforts to restructure York County’s Economic Development Board reach the county council.

The issues are geographical – eastern versus western York County – and ideological – who can best accomplish the board’s mission.

Both concerns are misplaced, but they could result in discussions to address the flaws of the proposed ordinance.

The east-west argument is a familiar one at the York County Council. It comes up any time the Interstate 77 corridor gets attention – at the expense of the western portion of the county, say residents who live there.

In drafting the restructuring ordinance, council members, as well as those on the current economic development board, considered whether there should be geographic requirements so that western portion of the county gets representation.

Ultimately they decided against geographic requirements, preferring to get the best people they can for board, regardless of where they live. The proposal even allows a York County business executive who lives outside the county to serve on the board.

The idea that will get even more debate is who is best suited to represent York County businesses – the local chamber of commerces or CEOs of existing York County companies.

Representatives from the chambers of commerce in York, Clover and Lake Wylie would lose their current seats if the proposal is approved.

Some residents say theses chambers know what is best for business, small businesses in particular.

The mission of the economic development board is not small business. Its mission is to recruit large businesses – manufacturing plants, distribution centers, and corporation headquarters. The economic development office is also there to assist existing large industries when they want to expand, hopefully meeting their needs and keeping them from relocating.

Small businesses don’t lack for help. Chambers of commerce offer help. So do the county’s smaller towns. Winthrop University has its Small Business Center.

But it can seem that these efforts are fragmented. You have to be “in the know” to ask for help. As former Councilman Curwood Chappel once said, maybe the county should have a small-business office within county government to help coordinate such efforts.

Supporters of the new structure want CEOs of large companies on the board to help identify potential prospects and help seal the deal. Industry execs do talk to their peers, especially when considering moving or expanding. Who better to answer questions about workforce, education, utilities and the willingness of local and state governments to work with prospective companies?

Having representatives from large industrial sectors has its merits, but it also could be a problem. So far there has been no discussion about how these CEOs would treat the “insider information” to which they would be privy. Assuming honor and integrity isn’t enough, the ordinance needs some teeth on this issue.

Who serves on the board, though, does need some discussion. The current and proposed boards have representatives from Winthrop University, York Technical College, the Catawba Indian Nation and various utilities.

But, as proposed, these positions could be term-limited.

You want the president of Winthrop and York Tech, the chief of Catawbas, as well as the top executives of York County Natural Gas, York County Electric Cooperative, Comporium and Duke Energy at the table all the time. They should be permanent advisory members with no need for county council appointment.

Neither of these proposed changes is major, but both would better serve the economic development board and York County – and hopefully streamline the process of bringing jobs here.