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NC Commerce Department public-private partnership holds first meeting

The new public-private partnership formed to handle business recruiting and a handful of other state Commerce Department functions held the first meeting of its interim board Wednesday in Charlotte.

The meeting of the nonprofit Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina was held about seven months after a state Senate bill failed to pass the General Assembly last year. The bill would have allowed the Commerce Department to transfer some functions to the partnership, which is designed to act as the state’s private economic development arm.

Similar legislation to Senate Bill 127 is expected be considered in this year’s short legislative session, officials said Wednesday. John Lassiter, the board’s interim chairman and a former Charlotte City Council member, said the partnership, for now, is using SB 127 as a blueprint for how it functions.

He said repeat failure of the legislation would not mean the end of the partnership. But having approved legislation would provide “clear, unquestionable authority for the actions that we are taking.”

Without the legislation passed, he said, questions have been raised about the partnership’s ability to use $1 million in public funds beyond the current fiscal year, he said. Plans call for private dollars to also be used to fund the partnership, he said.

Lassiter said the plan is for the partnership to be fully operational by July 1, after the short session. Some state employees could go to work for the new partnership, which is expected to assume the Commerce Department’s job recruiting and retention and marketing functions this year. Other Commerce Department employees could lose their jobs as some of its divisions are moved to the partnership.

Gov. Pat McCrory has said privatizing the functions will strengthen the state’s job recruiting efforts. Critics have said the strategy remains largely unproven.

Roberts: 704-358-5248; Twitter: @DeonERoberts
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