A five-year checkup

Published 10:34 am Saturday, March 6, 2010

Staff writer Charlie Passut, as part of his excellent, ongoing coverage of the economic recovery in Western Tidewater, has been taking an in-depth look at the entity charged with creating local jobs: Franklin-Southampton Economic Development Inc.

His series kicked off a couple of weeks ago with background on the organization’s creation and insight on a couple of economic-development successes in recent years: Feridies Inc.’s expansion in the Courtland industrial park and the addition there of Southampton Terminal, a warehousing and distribution operation.

Today the series continues with an objective look at job trends in Franklin and Southampton under FSEDI’s watch — overall employment and, more important, the industrial sectors on which the entity is largely focused. Other installments will cover how FSEDI spends its money and assessments by government and business leaders, as well as citizens, of its future.

The newspaper has no axes to grind or wheels to grease with Passut’s series. We believe that the organization’s fifth anniversary, which coincides with the pending loss of the community’s anchor employer, is an appropriate time to assess its effectiveness and give readers the facts they need to do so.

Elected bodies get judged at the ballot box every four years. Quasi-public entities like FSEDI need a similar checkup.

Franklin and Southampton County elected officials, who made an initial five-year commitment of public funds for FSEDI, will have to decide in the months ahead whether to continue the partnership, dissolve it or modify it. We hope our reporting is timely and helpful to the process.

It’s neither here nor there as it relates to our coverage, but I’m pulling hard for FSEDI to succeed, for several reasons:

* As a business owner who is heavily invested in the local economy, I want to see not only the lost mill jobs replaced but new ones added. I want to see local citizens gainfully employed, contributing to the tax base and spending money with my business and with the businesses that support mine.

* I am a strong believer in city-county cooperation, and economic development is one of the handful of areas where Franklin and Southampton are working jointly. FSEDI needs to succeed so that it will become a model for further consolidation.

* I like John Smolak, FSEDI’s president, and believe him to be a good ambassador and advocate for the community.

None of those alleviates the need for an objective, in-depth look at FSEDI, its performance to date and its prospects of future success.

The investment of $300,000 annually in taxpayer money is substantial. It warrants regular examination. That’s what Passut’s series is about, and we hope you find it useful.

If you have an opinion to share or an angle you’d like us to pursue, please let us know.