Board vacancies frozen at Economic Development until structure is changed

Three seats on York County’s Economic Development Board will remain empty while county officials consider ways to restructure the body that oversees business recruitment.

On Monday, the finance and operations committee of the York County Council, which approves appointments to boards and commissions, voted to freeze all new appointments to the board. Open seats on the board will now remain vacant until the County Council can revise the rules setting up the board, potentially creating a board that looks different from the one running economic development today.

York County’s economic development agency is taking the step based on recommended changes to its strategic plan from the firm Creative Consulting. The goal is to make the board more representative of the major industries in York County and to have board members who are better able to connect with the kind of industries the county wants to recruit.

“If you’re looking at our target industries, how can we capture that?” said Economic Development Director David Swenson. “We want people who are active in industry and who represent the major employers in our market.”

Some of the major local industries Swenson said he wants to see better represented in the process include manufacturers, warehousing and distribution, and information technology.

County Councilman Michael Johnson, who chairs the finance committee, said the freeze is the first step in a “change of emphasis” on the board.

“They want to reshape it so it’s more in line with their economic development goals,” Johnson said. “They want less, for lack of a better word, chamber-of-commerce types and more industry CEOs. ... They need more business leaders who manage major corporations, because that’s who they want to attract.”

Johnson said council members and economic development officials will meet later to agree on any changes to the county ordinance that sets up the board. Swenson said they haven’t determined yet if the way seats are allocated on the board needs to change from one where seats are given to certain organizations, like chambers of commerce, to one where certain industries have reserved seats. A task force of some of the key stakeholders involved may be formed to study that question, he said.

The board has three vacancies: one at-large seat, one reserved for the Catawba Indian Nation, and one filled by the Lake Wylie Chamber of Commerce.

Other seats on the board are reserved for different chambers of commerce – York, Fort Mill, Tega Cay, Rock Hill and Clover as well as the York County Regional Chamber – plus seats for Winthrop University and York Tech, and three seats for York County Growth Partners, all three held by utility companies.

The proposal is already receiving pushback. The finance committee only approved the board freeze by a 2-1 vote, with Johnson and Robert Winkler voting in favor and Bruce Henderson opposing the freeze.

Henderson, who represents the Lake Wylie area, said freezing the positions now is unfair because candidates for the open seats had already been lined up.

“If we’re going to do this, it should have been done without people in the mix,” Henderson said. “The gentleman from Lake Wylie has already been sitting in on the meetings. Now people are just going to be confused and disappointed.”

Swenson said the board had “good people” representing those areas, but he understands the council’s desire to have a revised appointment process in place before they move forward.

“What we do next is still to be determined,” he said. “We’re going to continue with all the people we have on the board now, who are all good leaders.”

But as the agency’s strategic planning process moves toward a revised vision for the board and its role, “we’re going to evaluate where we want to be going forward.”

Bristow Marchant •  803-329-4062