Johnston leaders are questioning the county’s membership in a regional economic-development agency.
The mission of the Research Triangle Regional Partnership is to attract employers to the 13 counties that make up the Triangle region
“We’re marketing the region,” said RTRP President Charles Hayes. “We say, ‘Come here; don’t go to Atlanta; don’t go to Frankfurt, Germany.’ ”
In return, the partnership asks for funding – usually from chambers of commerce. In Johnston, the county’s economic development office provides funding.
The RTRP also gets money from the state – about $200,000. But a bill in the General Assembly would end state funding, so the RTRP is considering asking its members for more money.
RTRP leaders haven’t made a final decision, but Hayes said charging each member county 30 cents per capita would cover the funding gap completely, he said.
Peggy Anderson, Johnston’s economic-development director, said the county hasn’t budgeted for an increase. And she’s asked commissioners to reconsider the county’s participation in the partnership.
“The commissioners need to weigh in on it,” she said. “They’ll have to decide whether or not to stay.”
Hayes said not paying the fee wouldn’t exclude Johnston County from the marketing partnership. The group asks for contributions but doesn’t base it marketing efforts on who pays how much, he said.
Whether Johnston stays in the partnership is up to county leaders, Hayes said. “If you don’t see a benefit in it, you shouldn’t invest in it,” he said.
Anderson said she hasn’t seen much benefit – at least not as much as RTRP leaders promised. She said she can’t remember one instance of the RTRP sending a prospective company or industry her way.
Anderson said she has tried to be more proactive, asking the partnership to send leads to her office. But so far, she’s had no success.
“We have asked that question, and they have not given us an answer,” Anderson said. “Basically they have said they’ll get back to us, and they haven’t.”
Anderson said she understands the partnership could soon lose state funding, but she’s not sure Johnston County would benefit by coughing up more money. “I’m not sure what I’m going to get for 30 cents per capita that I wasn’t getting for 10 cents per capita,” she said.
Paying a fair share
Hayes said the RTRP’s focus is on the region as a whole. It does not work to direct businesses to particular counties. Instead, he said, it directs companies to the sites that fit their needs. “We get rid of the political boundaries and market the region,” he said.
Hayes said he’s had trouble getting Johnston County’s full participation in the partnership. The RTRP gave the county three seats on its board, but one remains vacant because the agency has been unable to find anyone interested in filling the spot. He also points out that Anderson’s position is part-time.
The county is part of the partnership, Hayes said, whether it pay money or not.
Jeff Carver, chairman of the Johnston County Board of Commissioners, said he hasn’t delved into the topic yet. He said he wants to know the county’s return on investment, then start a discussion from there.
“I want to continue to be a part of the Triangle,” Carver said.
“We all have to pay our share, but we don’t want to pay more than our fair share.”