How Counties Organize to Carry Out Economic Development (part IV)

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This is the fourth in a series of posts to illustrate different ways that counties in NC organize to carry out economic development activities (links to parts I, II, and III). Each post will profile a different county’s economic development entity, including its structure, funding, staffing and reporting requirements. Pros and cons of each organizational structure will be discussed along the way.

Lincoln County

Lincoln County (population 78,265) is located northwest of Charlotte, North Carolina, approximately 45-minutes from the urban core of the region. The county includes two incorporated municipalities, Lincolnton and Maiden. Lincoln County is also home to a significant portion of shoreline for Lake Norman, North Carolina’s largest lake and a popular recreation destination in the region. According to the State Treasurer’s Office, Lincoln County’s annual budget was approximately $131 million in 2010.

In Lincoln County, economic development activities are carried out through a through an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, the Lincoln Economic Development Association (LEDA). LEDA is a public-private partnership between the local business community, the county government and the City of Lincolnton. It has been in operation since 1995.

LEDA has five full-time staff and an annual budget of approximately $720,000 (80% from County, 15% from private sector, and 5% from City of Lincolnton). The executive director of LEDA reports to an independent 14-member board of directors, which includes five ex-officio and nine elected or appointed members. Currently, the county makes four appointments and the city makes two (entity contributing most on an annual basis receives four appointments). According to by-laws, board appointments from the city and county can include no more than one elected official each. Board members serve 3-year, staggered terms.

LEDA’s executive director reports annually to the board in order to recap the year’s accomplishments and propose goals and a funding request for the following year. LEDA has, in the past, played a lead role in developing real estate for economic development. In 2000, LEDA developed a 3.6 million square foot industrial park. The executive director attributes LEDA’s success on this project to private sector leadership on the board (which helped to keep costs down) and the non-profit organizational structure (which provided flexibility in terms of contracting, decision-making, etc).

Additional case studies and lessons learned to come…

Vincent Monaco is a recent MCRP/MBA joint degree graduate from the UNC Department of City and Regional Planning and Kenan-Flagler Business School.

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