LAURINBURG — Direction of the effort to bring industry and economic prosperity to Scotland County, as the board of county’s current Economic Development Corporation has found out, is likely a job for more than five people.
Currently, the board consists of three county commissioners and two members of the Laurinburg City Council. It met on Friday with representatives of the Laurinburg-Scotland County Area Chamber of Commerce, the Scotland County Tourism Development Authority, and other organizations to discuss a potential expansion of the board’s representation.
“Part of the purpose of this meeting is to try to dispel some myths that are out there,” said Laurinburg Mayor and EDC board member Tommy Parker. “First of all, we want to be inclusive of our community as we move forward, and we want to move forward with one voice, one effort, unified.”
One topic of discussion was promoting the EDC’s progress in bringing new industry to the county in recent years, in the hope of converting communal pessimism.
“If you go to Laurel Hill and around other places and take a look at their industrial sites, you’ll see that there’s more here than high taxes,” board member Bob Davis pointed out. “Until we eliminate some of the negativity, we’ve got an uphill battle.”
“I think there’s a big information gap between what has happened and the impact that it’s had on the community and how we can build on that,” added board member Carol McCall. “I think part of the information gap is that I’d like to see twice as many people in this room and bring in some stakeholders from really different areas of the community.”
The EDC’s current three-year strategic plan prioritizes proactive job recruitment, development of additional physical inventory, and a more data-driven and goal-oriented plan to retain and expand business.
“We want to provide the best economic development program that we possibly can for our community,” said board member Guy McCook. “I think most of us would agree it’s about creating jobs and bringing investment into our community. There are a lot of pieces that go along with that, but the short answer is we’re trying to create new investment in our community.”
Cory Hughes, who direct’s the county’s tourism development authority, defined the EDC’s role as a facilitator of connections with industries seeking a location for expansion. But once the EDC has their attention, landing the prospect is up to the county’s business leaders and those who provide amenities like education and health care.
“Nobody moves here because of their connection with the EDC; they move here because of a connection, ultimately, with the community,” Hughes said. “It’s the EDC’s responsibility to connect with the community, but a company moves here because it’s a good place for them to be from a community standpoint.”
Nick Sojka, a Laurinburg attorney and TDA president, suggested that Laurinburg’s corporate leaders also have a formalized role in further development.
“We have people who are private sector executives in this community today who I would put up against anybody anywhere in terms of their talents and commitments, and the plus factor that they bring is that they have a true passion for this community,” he said.
At the conclusion of Friday’s meeting, the board pledged to formulate a restructuring plan with the assistance of Hughes, Charles Jenkins, NCWorks Career Center director Regina Smalls, Chamber director Janet Smith, and Laurinburg-Maxton Airport director JoAnn Gentry.
“Is everyone an equal member of the board?” McCall asked. “That’s an issue that has got to be talked about pretty frankly, because the way it’s structured now, the folks who have the vote are the folks who bring the money to the table.”
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.