A problem we can’t afford

Published 12:19 pm Saturday, February 2, 2013

Someone told me years ago that if you’re going to successfully work together as a team, everybody has to pull the rope in the same direction.

Common sense, really.

If a team is trying to accomplish a common goal and one member decides to go off in his own direction, that team is going to have a problem.

For a long time, Franklin and Southampton’s economic development team, which is comprised of the staff at Franklin-Southampton Economic Development, Inc. and elected and appointed public officials who back them, didn’t seem to be on the same page.

And as a result, well, we got few results.

It wasn’t for lack of effort or wanting better. It was because they weren’t pulling the rope in the same direction.

Much has changed lately. City and county leaders have begun a real, meaningful dialogue on how to share strengths and resources. Economic development leaders are working diligently to recruit potential investors and work more closely with the elected and appointed leadership of both localities.

Engaged citizens have seemingly become more supportive of development efforts and are gaining a better understanding of what it takes for us to be economically successful. We are starting to get some results.

Yet some individuals still seem hell-bent on pulling the rope in their own direction, and that’s a problem we can’t afford.

When the Southampton County Board of Supervisors voted on Monday to approve the tax incentive plan for AMAC Leasing’s concrete and asphalt plant in Ivor, five members grabbed a hold of the rope and started pulling it in the direction of growth and progress. But one supervisor pulled against them.

It is inconceivable to me what could cause an elected official, whose primary responsibility is to do good for the taxpayers, to go off in the opposite direction from what is best for his constituents. Yet that is exactly what happened.

During the Jan. 28 board of supervisors meeting, Newsoms District Supervisor Glenn Updike voted against the proposal. Updike claimed he knew nothing of the incentive package that was being offered, stating “I cannot consider this at all because is it not in an industrial-approved area, and when they came before the planning commission and board (of supervisors), they did not request this tax-exempt status. We had an agreement with them. I cannot see how we can approve this $150,000 decrease.”

Never mind the fact that every member of the board we questioned claims that it was made clear to the board from the very beginning that this deal would include a package of financial incentives, which was also originally reported by The Tidewater News (“Concrete, asphalt plant proposed for Ivor,” Sept. 21)

Never mind the fact that pretty much every economic development deal today includes a package of financial incentives.

Never mind the fact that, upon receiving a recommendation of the planning commission to do so, the board of supervisors (on which Updike sits) voted unanimously (meaning Mr. Updike did, too) to re-zone the land in question for industrial use.

Never mind the fact that, while the structure of the deal calls for a tax rebate of $150,000 over the first five years, the county expects to realize a net gain of $500,000 over the same period.

And 26 new jobs.

Never mind that, despite the fact that this has been one of the most transparent processes you’ll ever witness in the world of economic development, Mr. Updike basically claimed to know nothing of it.

Which means one of two things; he is either oblivious to the specifics of the county business he has been entrusted with conducting, or is working to promote his own individual agenda. Regardless of which one it is, neither of those scenarios are a problem this community can afford.

While Southampton County has earned a well-deserved reputation over the years as a place that is difficult to do business, there are a lot of people working very hard right now to not only overcome but also change that perception. We have made real strides as a community towards growth and prosperity, and have in place several of the necessary components to make several more.

But if we are going to move another inch forward, everyone’s going to have to grab ahold of the rope and pull in the same direction. It will be challenging enough even with everyone working together. Having someone on the team pulling in the wrong direction is a problem that, right now, we just can’t afford.