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

About the Author

CED Program Interns & Students

This is the fifth 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, III, and IV). 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.

Union County

Union County (population 201,292) is located east of Charlotte, North Carolina. The county includes fourteen incorporated municipalities, including the county seat, Monroe. Union County’s population has been growing rapidly, placing significant growth pressures on infrastructure and rural land values. Communities in the county are, by and large, bedroom communities for the regional workforce. In terms of economic development activities, there is an emerging cluster of aerospace companies around the small regional airport in Monroe, which serves as a hub for major economic development projects. According to the State Treasurer’s Office, Union County’s annual budget was approximately $289 million in 2010.

In Union County, economic development activities are carried out through a through an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, the Union County Partnership for Progress (UCPP). UCPP is a public-private partnership between the local business community, the county government and a handful of other local partners including the county’s school system and community college. UCPP serves primarily to promote economic development in the county (beyond the City of Monroe). Monroe has its own economic development entity which focuses on development within city limits. UCPP’s major priority in the last few years has been on development and marketing of a 5,000 acre business park in the eastern part of Union County; a project that has yet to realize any significant success (in part because it has limited infrastructure).

UCPP has two full-time staff and an annual budget of approximately $600,000 (90% from County, 10% from private sector and municipalities). The organization is undertaking a major push to increase private sector investment as a share of its overall budget. The executive director of UCPP reports to an independent 17-member board of directors, which includes four officers (all from private sector). Public officials on the board include the county manager, the school superintendent and the president of the community college.

Economic development leaders in Union County, including the commissioners, the municipalities and business leadership, have had intense recent discussions about the best way to structure the county’s ED capacities going forward. Historically, the county has invested heavily in UCPP but there have been concerns about accountability. The City of Monroe has been quite successful at recruiting new companies into the City, as the infrastructure tends to be more accessible. County leaders seem most interested in joining in partnership with the municipalities and the business community to meet jointly shared goals.

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.

*Map courtesy of Charlotte Regional Partnership.

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