Jobs recruiter OKs budget, takes up bylaw changes

David Ginn is CEO of the Charleston Regional Development Alliance, which is mending fences with the three counties that provide about one-third of the group’s budget.

Industrial recruitment is a behind-the-scenes affair until the big splash of a jobs announcement, but the way it was done in the Charleston area became very public during the last half of 2014.

The three counties — Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester — that help finance the Charleston Regional Development Alliance withheld their funding and threatened to create an alternate group if the alliance didn’t change the way it interacted with them and new business prospects.

To address the concerns, the alliance board on Wednesday heard a litany of changes to the organization’s bylaws, which will be voted on in March.

It also approved a spending plan for the remaining five months of its 2015 fiscal year. The budget will leave the group with about $748,000 to pay down debt, put toward special projects and set aside as savings.

Alliance CEO David Ginn said he learned a valuable lesson from the fallout.

“One of the takeaways I’ve had the last nine months is better communication,” Ginn said. “I have to get to know all of the council members, not just the mayors or county council chairmen. I’m committed to do that.”

The proposed bylaw revisions came directly out of talks with the counties last fall to patch up publicly aired differences over how the region woos new companies and other employers. The primary changes center on favoritism, industrial recruitment and executive committee membership.

“No favoritism is to be granted among investors with CRDA, and investors should join for the purpose of increasing economic development for the tri-county area, not for individual gain or favor,” according to one proposed amendment.

Another ensures that as soon as a prospect narrows its focus to one county, officials from that county will assume the lead role in courting the employer with support from the alliance.

The 11-member executive committee is proposed to be expanded to eight members from private industry and seven from the public sector. The public representatives will consist of two from each county and one rotating member representing local municipalities that contribute to the alliance.

“Adding people to the board helps improve communication and participation,” alliance Chairman Lonnie Carter said. “We have strengthened teamwork and cooperation.”

Leaders from all three counties said they were satisfied with the changes, though each county still has to sign off on them.

“It’s making it clear what the counties’ responsibilities are and what the alliance’s responsibilities are,” said Berkeley County Supervisor Bill Peagler.

Charleston County Council Vice Chairman Vic Rawl, a new member of the alliance’s executive committee, agreed that the bylaws delineate who is responsible for what functions when recruiting industry.

“We could approve the draft as it is,” Dorchester County Council Chairman David Chinnis said.

The changes will ensure better communication with the counties, and the alliance is relieved after the challenging first half of the fiscal year, said agency spokeswoman Claire Gibbons.

“We are happy to move forward with a closer relationship with the public sector and the private sector and look forward to continuing to promote the Charleston region around the world,” Gibbons said. “Our business development team is busier than ever.”

Carter, who is CEO of state-owned utility Santee Cooper, said he was pleased that everyone is now pulling in one direction.

“I really do feel good about where we are. We can’t have economic development unless we do it as a team,” he said. “That means we have to have the counties.”

On its budget, the alliance expects its revenues to come to $3.5 million this fiscal year, about $650,000 more than last year, including a one-time infusion of $175,000 from four private investors.

The three counties will kick in $835,000 based on a formula of $1.45 per resident from the last official census.

The larger municipalities in the area will kick in $80,000 collectively. Another $1.85 million will come from private or quasi-governmental sources. The alliance has dozens of private investors. The rest of the revenue will come from grants, in-kind contributions and other sources, according to the board’s financial plan for the rest of this fiscal year.

“We will end the year with a very significant surplus, so if it does happen again, we will have cash to put us in a very good position,” board Treasurer Rudy Thomas said.

Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.