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Commerce delays move to public-private partnership

By Patrick Gannon
pgannon@ncinsider.com

RALEIGH Citing a desire to get it right, state commerce officials are slowing down the planned move of the job recruiting and marketing functions of the Commerce Department to a nonprofit partnership.

During an update to lawmakers Tuesday, commerce officials said the move of five Commerce Department divisions to the new Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina won’t begin until July at the earliest.

“My experience is speed is not good if you want to do things well,” said Richard Lindenmuth, the recently named interim chief executive officer of the partnership. “The other part of speed is that it’s very hard to communicate and be transparent to those people who are interested and concerned that we are doing the right things.”

An earlier proposal anticipated that two divisions that recruit new businesses and market the state would move to the partnership in the first half of the year, followed later by three others: Small Business and Entrepreneurship; International Trade and Investment; and Travel & Tourism, Film and Sports Development. Combined, the five divisions have a budget of about $20 million.

The Commerce Department plans to lay off nearly 60 workers from the affected divisions. Those workers could then be hired by the Economic Development Partnership along with outside applicants. Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Durham Democrat, said he was concerned that staffing changes resulting from the move to the partnership could affect the state’s ability to recruit and retain businesses.

“One thing which I do have deep concern about is having adequate continuity in making certain that we do have good people who have maintained these contacts and ties over the years continuing to be involved as we move forward with this new initiative,” McKissick said during the meeting of the Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations.

Lindenmuth responded that one of the main reasons for slowing down the move was “people.”

“I’m very sensitive to people who work hard, who are looking forward to hopefully participating in the future of the privatization, doing much of what they’ve done before,” he said.

Lindenmuth said among his first tasks was to create a leadership team to develop a plan for the Economic Development Partnership. He said the team has put together an organizational chart with skills needed for the agency’s jobs but hasn’t “put any names on those pages.”

The transition delay also means the General Assembly will meet again before the move is made, giving lawmakers an opportunity to weigh in on the process. Commerce officials are using a Senate bill from the 2013 session as a framework for the partnership, but the bill never passed. Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker said she hoped the bill would pass in the coming legislative session, which begins in May.

Meanwhile, the latest commerce privatization plan indicates that the partnership’s board of directors will have 17 members. The bylaws also require the partnership to follow state public records and open meetings laws, according to the plan.

Patrick Gannon writes for the NCInsider.com, a government news service owned by The News & Observer. For more information, visit www.ncinsider.com.

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