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GUC commits to development partnership

councilConnelly

P.J. Connelly

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By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector

Friday, March 22, 2019

GUC will be a sustaining member in a public-private economic development effort, the utilities’ Board of Commissioners decided on Thursday.

The board unanimously approved a resolution affirming its commitment to a public-private economic development partnership at its monthly meeting, following after a presentation by Greenville Mayor P.J. Connelly. The mayor said Greenville City Council is scheduled to vote on a similar resolution at its Monday meeting.

“I feel like this is extremely important for our community, I feel like this is important for eastern North Carolina,” Connelly said. “We are the largest city in eastern North Carolina. We need to take a role in bringing more industry here, expand some of the current industry that is here and provide a good base for growth of economic development in our community.”

The city, GUC, Pitt County government, the Committee of 100 and GUC have worked with consultants for more than a year to create the framework for a partnership to pursue industrial and business growth in Pitt County, Greenville and the communities nine other municipalities.

In meetings and interviews with business and community leaders, more than 78 percent indicated they supported creating a public-private partnership.

However, Pitt County’s Board of Commissioners voted in February to withdraw from the partnership. Several days later the commissioners voted to continue with the organization as a major investor.

“That’s their prerogative, they are welcome to do that,” Connelly said. Individuals within the city of Greenville and other areas feel it’s important for Pitt County in general and eastern North Carolina to come together, he said.

“We feel like this is a great opportunity to come together,” Connelly said.

There will be different levels of membership under the proposed model for the public-private partnership. While the financial contributions of the levels haven’t been finalized, or board representation for the various membership levels, sustaining partners would be the highest level of investment, Chris Padgett, GUC chief administrative officer, said later.

GUC board member Parker Overton asked what GUC’s investment would be and where the money will come from.

GUC is being asked to invest $500,000 a year for five years, said Tony Cannon, GUC general manager/CEO. He is proposed $1.5 million from the expected $3 million in equity that will be available when the current fiscal year ends June 30 but set aside for the first three years of funding.

“I really don’t want to put it in the budget for rates, to have it impact rates,” Cannon said.

Connelly said he hopes people can see that a lot of time and effort have gone into creating the public-private partnership and that they see the vision behind it.

“It’s time to move forward. It’s been a year in the making and I don’t think we need to wait another year,” he said. “I feel like economic development has been stalled for a year. This is the time for us to move forward.”

“I can’t think of anything that’s been done in the community, in the 30 years that I’ve been here, that has been great, that didn’t have some risk associated with it,” said GUC board member Joel Butler, a retired Vidant Health executive. There were doubts and push back when leaders at Pitt County Memorial Hospital, now Vidant Medical Center, proposed moving to a non-for-profit operational model, leaving the control of Pitt County government.

Butler said the decision to join the partnership eventually will have an effect on GUC rates, because without growth existing customers will shoulder the full cost of inevitable increases in wholesale costs.

While Vidant Medical Center and East Carolina University are among Pitt County’s largest employers, and responsible for much of the current prosperity in the community, Greenville needs to be known for more than those two institutions, board member Kelly Darden Jr. said.

“At one of the first discussions we had (business leaders) were a little apprehensive, (asking) why do we want to bring in more jobs, that’s more competition,” Connelly said. “But that’s not the whole thing this organization is set up for, it’s about retention and growing local businesses. We all know local businesses here want to create a great economic success in Pitt County.”

Overton asked what the partnership’s benchmarks of success will be.

Benchmarks have been a continuous discussion and will have to be fleshed out in the first couple of months of operation, Cannon said.

Connelly said if the organization does not meet those benchmarks, the partnership can’t expect the business community to continue investing in its work because business leaders want results.

“We are starting this organization basically from scratch,” Cannon said. “We are going to ramp this up and you are not going to have the same results in year one as you should be having by year four.”

The business community is excited about the partnership, Connelly said.

Contact Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com or 252-329-9570.

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