Economic Policy Folly

Published 10:00pm Tuesday, July 1, 2014

To the Editor:
The proposed Economic Development Policy & Strategic Plan (as presented by Robert Williamson at the Public Hearing on June 23, 2014) starts by restating the adopted (March 15, 2010) 20/20 Vision Statement for Polk County:  “Polk County’s rural atmosphere and serene natural beauty will be vigorously protected.  Visionary and pragmatic county and municipal governments will work together in a cooperative manner as they continue to enhance the quality of life for all Polk County citizens.”
For me this statement is advocating for “Asset-Based Development” in Polk County.  Let me explain:  Earlier this month I attended a daylong NC School of Government session, Essentials of Economic Development, conducted by Jonathan Morgan Ph.D., Associate Professor at the NC School of Government.  Dr. Morgan noted that rural counties in N.C. have in recent years turned their focus away from the “Traditional Approach” of economic development (i.e., industrial recruitment, dependence on cheap labor, using financial incentives, seeking individual firms and large branch plants) to the “New Approach” (i.e., supporting existing business and industry, developing local talent and creativity, “green” development, focus on quality of place).
Morgan went on to emphasize that it’s important for a small rural county like Polk to know our niches, to build on our local strengths and to grow our own entrepreneurial businesses. Most importantly, we should first look within our own county for economic opportunities.  The one concept that summarizes this approach best is “Placemaking”.  Successful “Placemaking” results in a concerted effort to create a high quality community with amenities, infrastructure and opportunities that residents, workers and businesses desire.  I believe that the 20/20 Vision Statement for Polk County provides a guide for a “Placemaking” focus.
Unfortunately the 20/20 Vision Statement for Polk County had little influence throughout this 9 page Economic Development Plan document.  My initial concerns began last year at the beginning of this process when Mr. Williamson stated “We five commissioners as elected officials, set economic policy for Polk County and then instruct others to implement the policy.” I argued unsuccessfully from the onset that we should have the Economic and Tourism Development Board, Farmland Preservation Board, and their Directors along with broad based citizen participation work with the Board of Commissioners to form an economic policy for Polk County. We do not live in Polk County, Incorporated Rather, we live in Polk County whose citizens deserve and expect to participate in the formation of public policy. Ultimately, the Board of Commissioners will vote on policy decisions. If the proposed policy had been formulated from the beginning with broad based citizen input and support, then the likelihood of this being a sustainable policy would have been enhanced with more emphasis on “Placemaking.”
In the end we have a proposed Economic Development Policy and Strategic Plan that is not broadly supported by the public. Among several goals stated in the proposed policy that clearly should have not been included is the formation of a Polk County Equine Commission. Do we really want politicians deciding local equine policy?
Finally, I did not vote for the $21,000 that was pulled from the County’s fund balance (Rainy Day Fund) to pay consultant Robert M. Williamson. I believe that hiring Mr. Williamson by Commissioners Owens, Gage, Pack, and Holbert has been a folly funded by taxpayer money.

– Ray Gasperson, Green Creek

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