Future funding of FSEDI undecided

Published 10:26 am Saturday, May 29, 2010

* Last in a series

FRANKLIN—As Franklin Southampton Economic Development Inc. enters its sixth year, representatives of its four stakeholders say future funding commitments have not been decided, but all agree that the organization has fared well so far.

And that it should continue.

“FSEDI was established by a forward-thinking group of citizens put together from Franklin and Southampton County,” E. Warren Beale Jr., chairman of the FSEDI governing Board of Directors, said in a recent interview. “They recognized at that time that we had two big engines in this area—International Paper and agriculture.

“We knew that both of those were changing, but we didn’t want all of our marbles in one or two baskets. So we needed to do this.”

What was done, in April 2005, was a mutual agreement between Franklin and Southampton to merge their economic development efforts, creating FSEDI.

“It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t agree that we need to diversify, that we need new jobs and new economic growth,” Beale said. “But that’s also what everybody else is trying to do. We have a good person in (FSEDI President and CEO) John Smolak, and he has a good staff. We just have to continue pushing and working.”

For each of the past five years, both Southampton County and the City of Franklin have contributed $150,000 to FSEDI. For the fiscal year that begins July 1, both plan to reduce their contributions to $100,000 as they try to navigate through their own budget shortfalls.

“We did fund FSEDI this year,” Anita Felts, who represents the Jerusalem District on the Southampton County Board of Supervisors, said Friday. “And I feel that we will continue to. But next year could be another difficult year. We had to make cuts this year to things that we have fully funded in the past.

“We’ll just have to see what next year brings,” Felts said.

Although Franklin also reduced its FSEDI funding by $50,000, Mayor Jim Councill said the city would be foolish to stop funding the organization.

“If we don’t, then we can just fold our tent and put a ‘for sale’ sign on the City of Franklin,” Councill said Friday. “Why wouldn’t we fund them, especially now? We have more things going on right now than we have had in five years. We’re in the process of doing things that it took five years to get to, plus possible repurposing of IP.

“It is more probably the most important to time have it. And I think over the next two to three years you’re going to see huge dividends paid on the investment that we’ve made.”

Other stakeholders have made an investment in FSEDI as well. The Camp Foundations and Franklin-Southampton Charities have given the organization $150,000 and $250,000 a year, respectively, for the past five years. But their continued financial support has not yet been decided.

“There has been no request before us, but if a request comes we will most certainly look at it just like we look do all of the requests that we get,” Elliott Cobb, who serves as chairman of the grants committee for Charities, said Friday. “If we think that it’s worthy of funding, as it relates to our other priorities, we will certainly give it every consideration.”

John Marks, chairman of the Camp Foundations board, said a request for continued funding of FSEDI has not been discussed.

“We had a five-year commitment, but we haven’t brought up future funding yet,” Marks said Friday. He added that the foundation’s grant committee would make a recommendation on funding when it meets in September. A vote by the foundation’s board would follow in November.

But both Marks and Cobb said FSEDI has done a good job so far.

“We’ve done the best we can to help them, and I think they’re doing the best they can to try to bring industry to our community,” Cobb said. “But it is a very difficult job. I honestly believe that under John Smolak’s leadership we’re going to see some results, and I think we’re going to see it real soon.”

Said Marks: “I think they’ve done a good job. They have a very difficult task. They’ve done a good job on trying to bring business in, but it’s been a tough environment.”