County threatens to cut recruiter's funds

The Charleston Regional Development Alliance recruits jobs and industry to the Lowcountry.

The rift between the three counties and the Lowcountry's main industry-recruiting arm is widening.

On Monday, Charleston Regional Development Alliance Chairman Lonnie Carter told The Post and Courier that Charleston County had informed the group it will no longer provide funding to support its $3.1 million operating budget.

"Charleston County's leadership informed me last week that they will not fund the alliance, and they have recommended to the other counties to do likewise," said Carter, who also is CEO of state-owned utility Santee Cooper.

But Charleston County Council Chairman Teddie Pryor said that's not accurate.

"We told them we would give them $50,000 and withhold the other $450,000 until they met our demands," Pryor said Monday.

He said the agency is overly focused on raising money through investor fees from private businesses and academic institutions when it should be recruiting new employers.

"We want them to stay out of existing industries, and after they make contact (with a prospective industry), bring them to the counties," Pryor said. "They shouldn't give out incentives and then bring them to us at the last minute for approval.

That's not the way you do business. They can't give incentives. Only the counties and the state can do that."

The alliance has said it has no incentives to give out, but the group does inform companies about what is available to them if they invest in the region and create jobs.

Pryor likened the county's relationship with the alliance to a "bad marriage."

"If they want to continue doing business with our demands and our proposals, then we don't have a problem with that," he said. "If the alliance doesn't change the way they do business, I think you will see all three counties move in another direction."

Charleston County spokesman Shawn Smetana said the county's funding for the alliance remains unresolved.

Charleston County provides $500,000 a year to the alliance to help recruit industry to the three counties that make up the region.

Berkeley and Dorchester provide lesser amounts, but all three counties, along with the five largest municipalities in the area, are substantial donors. They give just under $1 million to the agency every year, about a third of the alliance's annual spending plan.

Dorchester cut its funding this year to $50,000 because of budget constraints and questions over the return on its investment. Dorchester's council was to meet Monday. Funding of the CRDA was on the agenda as a contractual item to be discussed behind closed doors.

"Dorchester County has notified me that their County Council will consider this recommendation at (Monday's) council meeting," Carter said.

Dorchester County Council Chairman Bill Hearn said he did not know if the council would take any action.

"I understand there is a push to not fund the alliance whatsoever," he said.

Berkeley included $258,000 in its budget, but it came with strings.

"We will not pay any fees toward the alliance until this is all fleshed out," Berkeley County Supervisor Dan Davis said.

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He was to brief council members Monday night on the latest developments.

Discord has been brewing between the agency and the counties behind the scenes for months over the alliance's responsibilities and its benefit to the counties.

It came to a head recently during the counties' spending discussions, which start each year during the spring before the new budget year kicks off in July. That's when the counties considered withholding funding to bend the alliance's arm to listen to their concerns.

Carter said efforts were being made for meetings with all the parties to sit down and discuss their concerns when Charleston County notified him it would no longer participate in the alliance.

Carter said the group is a vital part of the Charleston area's job-producing effort and will continue to operate.

"I firmly believe that public-private partnerships are an integral part of any community's economic development strategy and a best practice in economic development today," Carter said.

He added the agency will begin looking to restructure itself and will ask for investors' feedback to develop a new organizational and structural model.

Evening Post Industries, parent company of The Post and Courier, donates $25,000 a year to the alliance.

Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or