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State Commerce Workers Shift To Private Economic Development Partnership

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The state’s new Economic Development office is officially open and several employees have walked over from the Commerce Department.

About 34 people moved from Commerce to the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, located on Weston Parkway in Cary.  The new non-profit partnership essentially privatizes some of the Commerce Department’s duties.  John Lassiter chairs the board.

“We’ve got our key sales and marketing folks, along with travel and tourism team that will be focusing on growing jobs and expanding opportunities in NC," said Lassiter.

Jonathan Morgan is an Associate Professor at UNC’s School of Government. 

"It’s not entirely clear that a public private partnership will actually create more jobs or attract more companies than just having a state Economic Development department or a state Commerce Department," said Morgan.

He’s been watching these organizations pop up across the country.

He says models in Indiana and Arizona have seemed to work.  But other states, like Wisconsin, have been plagued with issues of conflict of interest and misuse of funds.

"My sort of take on it, at the end of the day, the public private structure model can work.  It’s all in how it’s implemented," said Morgan.  "To address some of those misuse of public funds, it’s important that the right safeguards are put in place."

Lassiter, who is also President of Carolina Legal Staffing, says the new partnership will give the state more flexibility and speed in attracting business.

“We believe we took the best of what was out there," said Lassiter.  "There are about a dozen states who’ve organized this way across the country.  Many of them are our direct competition for key manufacturing and distribution and technology companies.”

The partnership also has more leeway in how much staff is paid, which can be significantly more than at a state agency.

Lassiter sits on a five-member interim board.  Gov. Pat McCrory is expected to name a permanent, much larger board in coming weeks.

Leoneda Inge is WUNC’s race and southern culture reporter, the first public radio journalist in the South to hold such a position. She also is co-host of the podcast Tested and host of the special podcast series, PAULI. Leoneda is the recipient of numerous awards from AP, RTDNA and NABJ. She’s been a reporting fellow in Berlin and Tokyo. You can follow her on Twitter @LeonedaInge.
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