Economic development plan public hearing June 23

Published 10:02 pm Sunday, June 15, 2014

Economic development director resigns

Polk County Commissioners are ready to hear from the public regarding a proposed economic development plan and strategy the county has been drafting since October.
A public forum will be held first from 5-7 p.m. on Monday, June 23 prior to the public hearing to give the public an opportunity to ask questions prior to the public hearing. Both the public forum and public hearing will be held in the Womack building in Columbus.
The county’s economic development department will also be taking a new direction as economic development director Libbie Johnson resigned her position on Wednesday, June 4.
Johnson was the county’s economic development director since October 2011 when the county created a new department and commission, the Polk County Economic and Tourism Development Commission (ETDC).
The county contracted with Johnson to serve as the economic and tourism development director.
Polk County Interim County Manager Marche Pittman said he is recommending to commissioners that the county wait on hiring a replacement for Johnson until after the economic development policy has been finalized.
“We appreciate the contribution that Libbie has made to the office of economic development for Polk County and we wish her nothing but the best in her future endeavors,” said Pittman.
The proposed economic development plan and strategy has been drafted by consultant Robert Williamson, who has been working with commissioners since last year on the draft. Williamson and commissioners have met with several organizations and all the towns, including Landrum to draft the plan.
During the county’s last meeting on June 2, Craig Hilton with the county’s ETDC reviewed a Furman report done on economic development in Polk County. Hilton said the company visited the county and did a demographic overview then a full site visit, meeting with various government and education officials as well as visited most major developments and potential sites for ongoing development in the county.
The Furman report received criticism from residents at the meeting, including from Pat Salomon, who said the report is filled with errors and typos and comes to the same conclusions that the county’s economic development director has been doing for years.
“This report states what the economic development director has known all along,” said Salomon. “You should listen to her. She gets it. I hope the county didn’t spend a lot of money on this report.”
Judy Heinrich said once again the county has done a study that doesn’t find it necessary to speak with people involved. She said the new study based their recommendations by reading the county’s 20/20 vision plan.
Heinrich said if you go to Google maps and want to get to a new place the first thing they ask is “where are you now.”
“Nobody has been asking the business people where they are now,” Heinrich said, “what challenges and opportunities they see.”
Heinrich said Polk County has several vibrant industries right now and she would like to say that important things are happening in the county, naming the farm at the high school, the agricultural center, recreation that attracts thousand of bicyclists, people coming from all over the country and world to kayak and for water sports on the Green River, the Gorge with their tremendous amount of employees and increases to other businesses and an equine industry recognized all over the world. Heinrich said Polk County has the recognition as an outstanding place for horses and horse people and that is what is driving White Oak development and Polk is also targeting manufacturing, mentioning Carolina Yarn Processors creating 24 new jobs in 2013.
“We have come through a bad period of a time in a national recession yet today we are the number two (lowest) unemployment rate in the state,” said Heinrich, “and that is up from number three in March.”
She said Polk is not dependent on any one big industry and experts say a county shouldn’t be dependent on one big thing.
Commissioner Michael Gage asked if some of the members of the board didn’t meet with people with the chamber of commerce and businesses to talk about the economic development policy.
Heinrich said she means really talking to people who are in business. Asking how viticulture is growing, for example. She said she’s not talking about going to boards but going out and meeting people or having them come in and do presentations.
Renée McDermott said she is concerned about what she read in the Furman report and is mystified by how these people were chosen to do such a report.
Among the few things the report suggests is reopening the county’s vision report, McDermott said, only a few years after it was painstakingly approved. She said the report is poorly written, full of mistakes and looks like an early draft.
Gage said even if nothing has changed it’s always a good idea to give stakeholders assurance that the county is still on the same path. It’s a living document, Gage said.
During the county’s Monday, June 16 meeting, commissioners are scheduled to go into closed session for the purpose of attorney-client privilege then return to discuss an economic development consultant for discussion and possible action.
To view the latest draft of the county’s economic development plan and strategy, visit where it is linked on the home page.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox