ST. GEORGE — The partnership that makes up the Charleston Regional Development Alliance might be about to crack.
Dorchester County Council members have asked staff for hard numbers and dollar figures on the return the county specifically gets from its $170,000-plus annual payment to the alliance, a coordinating group for industry recruitment in the three counties that make up the Charleston region. That came after a lengthy discussion of concerns raised by a number of council members during a budget retreat last week.
“Return on investment,” said Council Chairman Bill Hearn, who sits on the alliance board’s executive committee. “That’s what council is concerned about, that we’re not on their radar.”
That concern isn’t new. Members of all three county councils, including Berkeley and Charleston, have groused publicly in previous years about putting nearly one-third of the funding into a well-paid effort that progressively has seemed more about marketing than job recruitment.
But the concern this time among Dorchester council members has more weight. Council members also discussed forming their own alliance with nearby counties, including Colleton.
“I’m very frustrated by it,” Councilman George Bailey said about the alliance effort in terms of the county.
David Ginn, the alliance’s president and chief executive officer, said he was not aware of the Dorchester council discussion and that the alliance values the economic partnership of the counties.
“We’re moving forward marketing the Charleston region as a globally competitive region,” he said. “I have every indication to think our relationship is healthy and strong.”
Members of the outlying counties, Dorchester in particular, have felt at times the alliance didn’t bring back economic development to the individual counties.
In 2012, the chairmen of all three councils wrote the alliance board chairman to complain about “mission creep.” The governments are founding members of the alliance, created as a regional business-recruitment organization after the Navy base closure in the 1990s.
In more recent years, the alliance has turned to an investor-driven leadership structure of area business leaders. The “mission creep” brush-up was settled by placing the three council chairmen on the alliance’s executive board.
But some discontent festers. Berkeley County has asked the alliance to take another look at how counties fund the alliance. All told, the counties contribute nearly $1 million to a nearly $3 million budget, with nearly $2 million going into operation expenses that include salaries. Berkeley County Supervisor Dan Davis characterized that as “the only real issue lately.”
Elliott Summey, Charleston County Council co-chairman, attends alliance meetings when Chairman Teddie Pryor cannot and chairs the county’s own economic development board. The county’s payment to the alliance is discussed during every annual budgeting session, he said.
“Here we are giving them the lion’s share of the funding” and occasionally have felt excluded. But Summey said, “The (county) economic development commission works hand-in-hand with the alliance. There’s a formula that gets this stuff done. It’s not one person or one group.”
The alliance is the group that keeps the three county EDC efforts “pushing the wagon in the same direction,” he said.