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Charlotte region’s job recruitment agency faces new challenges

These are challenging times for the Charlotte region’s job recruiting agency.

The Charlotte Regional Partnership saw its financial support from the state – normally 15 percent of its budget – shrink from about $500,000 to about $130,000 this year.

North Carolina lawmakers moved to create a new public-private economic development agency on the state level, arguing that it can operate more nimbly than the seven current regional job recruitment agencies in chasing down corporate relocation targets.

And to top it all off, some folks apparently thought it all meant the Charlotte Regional Partnership was going out of business.

Not so, says Ronnie Bryant, the group’s leader for the past eight years.

He wants the region to know the partnership, which got 60 percent of its budget from private sources last budget year, will survive. Its leaders are making the rounds of its 16 member counties, taking care to “re-recruit” the county officials who supplied about 25 percent of its budget last year.

The group is trying to raise $350,000 from corporate supporters old and new to make up for the state cut. Having launched that effort only about a week ago, Bryant said the group is already nearly a quarter of the way to its goal.

He noted last week that when he first came to the partnership, the state was supplying it with $1.2 million annually, an amount that has been steadily falling.

“This is nothing new to us, having to raise private sector money to offset the decline of state money.”

But the group does face some big unknowns going forward. How will it work with the still-under-construction state economic development agency?

Bryant said he’s not sure what the new outfit will look like in the end. His group has had little input into the discussions in Raleigh that will determine the group’s final form. He and Peter Acker, chairman of the Charlotte Regional Partnership’s board, said they hope to collaborate with the new group.

Still, they seemed resigned to the likelihood that they’ll find themselves in competition with it – perhaps more for corporate financial support than for jobs.

The Charlotte partnership counts Duke Energy, Wells Fargo and Bank of America among its biggest backers. Hard to imagine the state group declaring such titans off-limits to its own fundraising efforts.

“The presence of competition isn’t necessarily bad,” Acker said. “It makes us more accountable for results.”

The partnership and its leaders strongly believe they’re a key cog in the economic development engine for the region. The group created by legendary business leaders John Belk, Ed Crutchfield, R. Stuart Dickson, Bill Lee and Hugh McColl says it has helped create about $2.59 billion worth of new investments and 21,000 jobs since 2005.

Among them: MetLife’s announcement earlier this year that it will bring its U.S. retail headquarters and 1,300 jobs to Mecklenburg County, and online photo publishing firm Shutterfly’s $60 million investment in a Fort Mill, S.C., plant.

It’s hard to know exactly what the state’s new economic development approach will mean for the Charlotte region.

But Acker and Bryant said the strength of support they’ve seen so far suggests the Charlotte Regional Partnership will be around for years to come.

“The landscape’s going to change a little bit,” Acker said. “But we don’t think that’s going to interfere with what our long-term mission is.”