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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 the co-host of “Due South” – WUNC’s new daily radio show. The program takes a panoramic view of race, southern culture, politics and place – stories Leoneda has reported on for more than 20 years at WUNC – North Carolina Public Radio. Leoneda is the recipient of Gracie awards from the Alliance of Women in Media, awards from the Associated Press and the Radio, Television, Digital News Association (RTDNA). She was part of the WUNC team who won an Alfred I. DuPont Award for the series, “North Carolina Voices: Understanding Poverty.” In 2017, Leoneda was named “Journalist of Distinction” by the National Association of Black Journalists. Leoneda is a graduate of Florida A&M University (B.S.) and Columbia University (M.S) where she was a Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economics & Business Journalism. Leoneda also studied Environmental Justice as a Knight-Wallace Fellow at The University of Michigan. Leoneda has produced stories from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Mound Bayou, Mississippi. Her international reporting fellowships include trips to Berlin, Tokyo, Durban, South Africa and Seoul. Leoneda’s essay, “Everybody Is Cheering for You,” is in the book, “HBCU Made – A Celebration of the Black College Experience,” release date January 2024. Leoneda is the proud mother of two sons, Jean Christian and Teemer Seuline Barry.
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