Dorchester discontented with regional jobs group
Dorchester County is mulling whether to give the Charleston Regional Development Alliance an ultimatum – refocus your efforts on economic development, giving equal energy to all four counties in the region, or we’ll find someone who can.
The idea surfaced during Thursday’s budget workshop.
At least two council members disapproved strongly of the job the alliance is doing.
CRDA has done “absolutely nothing for this county in the last five years,” said Councilman David Chinnis.
Taking credit for economic development announcements at Showa Denko and Bosch was “absolutely disingenuous,” he said.
Councilman Larry Hargett, who served as council chairman last year, said the county isn’t getting a return on investment. It was an unbelievable struggle last year just to get a county representative on the executive committee, he said.
CRDA President and CEO David Ginn said he hadn’t heard any discontent..
“We’re committed to working together to address any concerns … once they’re brought to our attention,” he said.
According to County Administrator Jason Ward, though, Dorchester officials aren’t the only ones unhappy with the situation.
Ward told council that officials from Berkeley and Charleston are primed for change.
“I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say they’re fed up,” he said.
The county pays $173,000 annually to the alliance, which markets Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties with the goal to “strengthen regional employment, build our base of high-value industries, and significantly improve the economic future for all who live and work in the greater Charleston area.”
Ginn said the alliance does this through four paths: marketing the region, facilitating the site selection process, driving regional competitiveness and leading by engaging business, elected leadership and academia in economic development.
It developed a regional strategy, Opportunity Next, that targets particular industries, and it’s focused on executing that strategy, Ginn said.
The alliance serves “as a catalyst for long-term sustainable economic growth in our whole three-county metro region,” Ginn said.
The three counties’ economic development directors meet weekly with the alliance to review prospects, he said.
“Those relationships are very healthy and have no indications of concerns,” Ginn said.
During Thursday’s meeting, though, Ward outlined a proposal for total reformation of the alliance.
It should be a four-county alliance that includes Colleton, he said, and Summerville should be the geographic center of the alliance.
The CRDA should market the region with a map that doesn’t show county lines, and it should generate leads beyond those generated by the S.C. Department of Commerce, he said.
Colleton County Administrator Kevin Griffin said he hasn’t heard discussion of an expanded region lately, though Colleton has a natural geographic and cultural relationship with the Charleston area.
A few years ago there were informal talks about Colleton joining, but the alliance couldn’t seem to agree on Colleton’s role, he said.
Colleton now has a “good partnership” Southern Carolina Alliance, which represents Barnwell, Bamberg, Allendale, Hampton, Jasper and Colleton counties.
Council Chairman Bill Hearn, who worked with the CRDA in its early days during his previous stint on council, said the alliance’s mission has evolved dramatically.
“It’s not economic development-oriented like it used to be. … We fund them by tradition,” he said.
The alliance has turned into more of a Chamber of Commerce-type organization, with representation from banks, law firms and universities, instead of an organization focused solely on economic development, council members said.
The salaries paid to staffers are way out of line with what county employees are paid, Hargett said.
Ward said if the alliance were to agree to add Colleton, Dorchester’s contribution wouldn’t increase.
The alliance is supposed to be funded by the counties on a per-capita basis, but that’s no longer strictly the case, he said.
Charleston County asked for and received a reduction, he said. Berkeley County stepped up to pay the difference, but it’s no longer happy with the arrangement, Ward said.
Hargett cautioned that being in the alliance does have one huge benefit – the name “Charleston.”
People across the country and overseas don’t recognize the name “Dorchester County,” he said, but they recognize Charleston.
“There is value in that name,” he said.
On the other hand, Chinnis said, what is the alliance going to do if Dorchester refuses to play along? Dorchester still benefits from its proximity to Charleston.
“What are they going to do? They can’t pick us up and move us. We’re here,” he said.