If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
That’s the philosophy behind a new economic development strategy to piggyback off Asheville’s success. The plan currently under development calls for paying the Asheville Chamber of Commerce to represent Haywood’s interests — namely when it comes to recruiting new businesses and industry.
“Obviously they have been very, very successful in luring high paying jobs to the area,” said Commissioner Mike Sorrells, who serves on the Haywood economic development council. “They have a huge budget and what we can do is take a small portion of our economic development money and leverage it with theirs.”
Currently, the county contracts with the Haywood Chamber to act as its economic development arm. The chamber gets a budget of $223,000 a year from the county. A to-be-determined portion of that would be subcontracted to the Asheville Chamber, which would essentially buy Haywood name recognition at the business recruiting table.
Chamber President CeCe Hipps said the concept originated with the chamber. Hipps said the chamber has fielded numerous questions over the past several years about Asheville’s success in the economic development field and why they get all the leads instead of Haywood.
“We thought, ‘they’ve got it all working well for them. Let’s see if they will work with us,’” Hipps said.
The more the idea was discussed, the more appealing it became.
“We are trying to be efficient with the money we have,” Hipps said. “This is a natural fit for us. We work as a region anyway on public policy and transportation issues. We are just expanding that relationship.”
County lines between Haywood and Buncombe have grown increasingly fluid. Buncombe’s maxed out housing market has sent would-be Asheville buyers into Haywood’s real estate market, and job seekers from Haywood increasingly find work in Buncombe.
“The economy is regional,” Sorrells said.
A job win for Buncombe is a win for Haywood as well, and vice-versa, he said.
After the Chamber board agreed to pursue the idea, Hipps quietly discussed it with some several Haywood commissioners and economic development leaders while Kit Cramer, the president and CEO of the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, did the same thing in Buncombe.
The Haywood and the Asheville County Chamber of Commerce boards voted to support the development of a contract, Hipps said, and the Haywood County Economic Development Council is expected to to do the same Thursday.
Hipps predicts the change will occur no later than Dec. 31, 2017. However, a formal agreement hasn’t yet been drafted spelling out how much the Asheville Chamber would get and the services provided in return. That is the next step in the process.
While the Haywood County commissioners have not yet voted on the plan, Hipps said meetings held to date indicate the change has the board members’ blessing. Sorrells said since the dollars on the table are county tax dollars passing through the Haywood Chamber, the change needs to include a commissioner vote.
The Asheville Chamber is offering three levels of service between $50,000 and $150,000 annually. The biggest emphasis would be making sure new businesses and industries being recruited to the region have Haywood on their radar, but duties might include developing white papers on available commercial and industrial property in Haywood or improving website presence.
Haywood County would still fund the position of a local economic development director through the chamber, but that person could focus more on small business expansion and courting entrepreneurs than jockeying with the big players to land big new employers.
“The big fish type deal, for lack of a better word, that’s what we would depend on Buncombe for,” Sorrells said.
For those wondering whether the Asheville Chamber would emphasize recuitment in Haywood when there are plenty of areas in Buncombe County searching for new businesses as well, Hipps said the contract would spell out provisions ensuring Haywood interests were represented.
“They see it as good for Buncombe, too, because what’s good for us and the region is good for them,” Hipps said.
Currently, Mark Clasby oversees the economic development initiatives in the county under the chamber’s umbrella, and Hipps said that won’t change except for possible minor tweaks in his job description.
The county historically did economic development in-house, but began outsourcing that role to the chamber just three years ago, including bringing new companies to the county, building relationships with existing businesses and creating a marketing plan to support targeted economic development efforts.
Hipps said the reorganization effort in 2014 “helped more than people realize,” but said it is always useful to look for new and better ideas.
“They have so many resources available to them that Haywood County does not have,” Hipps said of the Asheville Chamber. “There are eight people in their economic development division that only do economic development like bringing new business in, working on workforce development and helping small businesses grow. We see this as a positive, and so do they.”