Union County commissioners gave the go-ahead this week for Monroe to take over economic development for the county.
County officials were looking to improve how such work is handled for them. Previously, a nonprofit group had provided economic development for the county, and there were concerns about accountability and results.
Monroe city council members are expected to approve the plan at their Dec. 4 meeting.
The city’s successful economic development department has been around since 1996. It has supported Monroe’s booming aerospace industry and led to the creation of nearly 5,000 jobs and $1 billion in announced capital investment.
Monroe will take over economic development for the entire county Jan. 1 in a deal that runs through June 2015. There are options to extend the arrangement after that time.
“This idea has been met with excitement by some and with angst by some,” commissioners Chair Jerry Simpson said. Calling the plan “unchartered territory,” Simpson said he remains convinced that it will lead to economic growth and good jobs.
So does Chris Platé, Monroe’s executive director of economic development and aviation.
“We’re taking a proven model and taking it countywide,” said Platé, who will run the combined economic development group.
A 24-member economic development advisory board will consist of eight members each from the city and county, and the rest are ex-officio, including the city and county managers and the local school superintendent. The county’s board members may include representatives from other municipalities in Union County who are willing to financially participate in the program.
But some towns already are considering other options.
Indian Trail and Stallings met this fall with Matthews and Mint Hill officials to discuss a potential collaboration that boosts economic development in western Union County and southeast Mecklenburg County.
The towns said a possible partnership could be similar to the way several north Mecklenburg towns, Huntersville, Davidson and Cornelius, handle economic development in their area.
Monroe and county officials did not see that effort as being an impediment to what they are trying to do.
The new economic development group will reach out to the other 13 municipalities in Union County to see which ones are interested in participating in a countywide strategic plan, as well as determine the individual needs of the communities.
Some smaller municipalities, such as Hemby Bridge or Unionville, may not be interested in big economic development that could change the nature of their communities.
But any improvement in economic development would be welcome in a county with an off-kilter tax base that is 85 percent residential and just 15 percent commercial.
Monroe will pay $300,000 annually and the county will cover $400,000 a year for the costs of running the new Monroe-Union County Economic Development group. In addition, the county has agreed to pay the city up to $70,000 in one-time costs associated with the transition, such as changing all of its materials to reflect the new name.