Orange County Economic Development Director Resigns

WCHL is reporting that Orange County Economic Development director Brad Broadwell has resigned. This is on the heels of the Town of Carrboro Economic Development Director James Harris announcing his retirement. Is this a opportunity or a disaster for local economic development? Is this a coincidence or a shake up by local government to prepare for change?



Well, I don't know the circumstances of his resignation, but I can't think of a thing more depressing than being a economic development director in Orange County.I've just returned from the new Outlet Mall at our western border and it's a definite WOW. Swore I'd never go, but there I was in the mid-afternoon with thousands of other people. Easy in, easy spend, easy out.So, why didn't that outlet mall locate in Orange County? And a one, and a two........

I've never even met Brad, but from the statements I had read in the media I felt he was kind of out of step with Orange County values. I think just getting him out of the way is probably an opportunity so that the Commissioners don't have to wrangle with the staff just to implement their vision (weak as it may be).I have heard some ideas about moving the County's economic development work from the staff to an outside organization, but I don't really see the advantage of that. A county-wide coalition that could work together on these issues is great, but I want to have the accountability of at least being able to hire and fire the bosses (electeds) that manage this for the County.

We've seen a lot of solid economic development in the County over the last 10-15 years. This gets lost in the repeated mantra of the development community that you just can't do business in Orange County. We need to see a comprehensive report on the progress made in economic development before we buy into the assumption (that is presented with slim data) that the County is anti-business. I'd also love to see a success story of a county similar to Orange that decided that any business was good business, opened up their doors to any and all ventures, and achieved their goal of lower taxes and better lifestyles for its citizens.

The mantra is repeated in Chapel Hill News columns by Mark Zimmerman (a Durham resident who has a Re/Max franchise in Durham with a satellite office in Chapel Hill), and his employee Terri Tyson, who regularly appears in the letters to the editor column and on WCHL's morning show.

Did you know that our elected officials, and thus citizens, have ultimately no say in who is hired to do economic development in Orange County governments?

As I understand it the Manager/Council system of government we use gives the Managers full control over hiring. While it may be a good thing to remove politics from staff it also creates a undemocratic system in regards to community setting priorities in economic development.

If this is true could this be why folks are suggesting a independent economic development organization?

Brian, In the Manager/Commissioner form of government the County Commissioners set policy goals and objectives [representing "the people"] and hire the County Manager to move such goals and objectives forward.  If the County Manager fails to act on an initiative that the Commissioners [via "the people"] have set out then she can be fired by a simple majority vote.   The Commissioners are charged with ensuring that the community is represented in this form of government.  I am not sure I fully understand your claim that the Manager/Commissioner form of government creates an undemocractic system.  So long as our representatives, which were elected fairly and democractically, have the power to hire/fire the Manager then I think we are represented. 

Thanks for jumping into this conversation Carlo. I have great respect for your ideas and experience.

I should replace the word "system" with "situation". My intention is to say that more citizens need to be consulted during the decision making process for the new Orange County Econ Dev director.

I believe a key to sucessful staff/citizen collaboration is a positive relationship. So citizens need to get along personally with whom the Manager chooses from the start in such a high profile position.

I've made similar suggestions to the Orange County manager via email and have not received a response I think reflects a willingness to listen to a large group of people. One way to do this would be to hold special, well advertised, public hearings.

Please don't take this comment as an indictment on the entire Manager/Council style of government. Just a reflection of my frustration with this particular situation.

Brian,I think I remember hearing that the BOCC is planning on talking about Economic Development [and its structure] at their planning retreat.  I am not sure when that is scheduled but perhaps you could petition the BOCC to hold a public hearing on economic development before they have this disucussion at the retreat.  I believe all you would need to do to get on their agenda is to contact Donna Baker, 245-2130.  I really appreciate how much time and energy you are putting into the economic development debate.  I think you have a interesting perspective on the topic and your voice is important.  I bet there are many others, if given the opportunity, would want to express their ideas, interests, etc. on economic development in Orange County to the BOCC.  This is a unique opportunity to have this discussion.     

The term "economic development" is used as if we all agree on what it means. Somebody says we need more economic development and you can see heads nodding knowingly around the room. Somebody says that Orange County is notoriously anti-business and heads nod knowingly around the room. Somebody says that if we increase commercial devlopment, our taxes will not need to increase and heads nod knowingly around the room. Yet all these concepts mean different things to different people and part of our problem in dealing with these issues is that we've never set up a process for citizens to agree on what we mean when we use these words and what the assumptions are when these blanket statements are made.

As an example, I don't consider retail development as real economic development. Although it may offset some residential property tax, it also encourages a model of constant acquisition that I feel is unsustainable.  

The fact that neighboring counties continually permit the opening of businesses barely on the other side of the county border from us and subsequently those businesses prove popular tells me that the development policy of OC is hostile to people that live in in OC.

Focusing on jobs seems like a good place to start.  That's something this county has never really considered a priority  because  our unemployment rate has been so low.  However,  our community has relied for years on its  neighbors to provide jobs for our own residents.   Retail has a place in the mix, both for entry level/flexible employment  and for providing goods for sale.  But it is only one piece of the pie.     Look at RTP--not much emphasis on retail development in the Park itself, but plenty of economic strength.      It's very eye opening to Look on the Orange County's ED website at the top 25 employers in the county--who they are and how many people they employ.   I find it very disappointing.   Once you get past UNC and government employment,  there is not much in the way of high paying jobs  or companies with very many employees.    Then go look at Durham and Alamance counties economic development websites and compare. 

I am consistently amazed at how many companies in Orange County that most of us don't know about. They are strong organizations that are contributing significantly to our economy, both through the creation of jobs and by spending money at local businesses. One is Fleet Feet. They have a bunch of employees here, two offices, and spend a TON of money at local hotels.

One strong sector in our County is high tech, especially Internet software. At my last unscientific count there are over 100 technology employees working in downtown Carrboro alone. They may not get a lot of attention but they're here contributing.

I believe Orange County has a significant advantage in the 21st Century economy. It’s not a super obvious advantage because it’s very different from the 20th Century one. Traditionally when we look at the health of an economy we gauge it by counting the big companies that hire more than 100 people. This is the age of high growth companies with less than 20 employees. Orange County incubates the heck out of these types of companies!

If we look at it this way you'll see we’re doing really well, especially with freelancers, small companies with less than 20 employees, and telecommuters. Together these business types contribute more than all the big companies together. (Again an unscientific claim.) By more I mean they create a sustainable more flat predictable economy. When a few small tech companies go out of business or move the effect on the greater local economy is not a big shock. (Of course to the people who lose jobs and money its significant.) But when a larger company lays off hundreds of employees or moves out of the county the ripple effect is really felt. In other words lots of small companies are more sustainable and nimble than large ones. Ex. How will it feel here when hundreds of UNC employees are laid off? (Not my prediction but one being discussed in town.)

I for one am working to change the conversation. No more fretting about big box stores and attracting large companies. The return on investment in that game is low. Especially with our lack of funds to play the cash incentives games. Let’s play to our strengths within our budget. The rally call must be resilience and extra support of small companies with a global reach and high paying jobs.

As a small businessman, I've always shaken my head at the "high-level" economic discussions that involve trying to land big companies. So much energy is expended trying to land companies employing a hundred+ people. My construction company (similar to many others in the area) has employed anywhere from four to ten people over the years. A crude calculation would show that 10-15 small companies would equal that 100 employee company. Going beyond that, these small operations are almost always locally rooted in the community with all the benefits that that brings - keeps local money circulating, employers usually know the emplyees and their families better, and those companies that provide services have to deal fairly and competently with the local community or they don't survive. Yet the economic development people from Planning Central seem oriented to landing the big sexy fish. For example, Broadwell came to Orange County and got excited about locating an airport in the county as a economic development strategy. Obviously, only a pinhead would rule out larger companies that would fit into our community, but it often seems that the power of  local businesses which are the strength of our business economy is not fully appreciated.

Brian and Mark,I suspect that part of the problem for an economic development program to serve small companies might be logistics.  I wouldn't be surprised to find out that trying to "service" 10 small companies, representing a diverse group of goods or services,would entail a great deal more work, and perhaps manpower, than trying to deal with a single large company.  I'm not saying that the latter approach is the preferred approach but if the goal is going to be to support smaller companies then the planners need to ensure that there are adequate resources to do so.  If you provide only limited resources then the natural inclination will be to take the approach that is most likely to succeed with those limited resources.

From the studies I've read, local businesses generate 3-5 times more
revenue for the community than do non-local businesses.  But the economy
isn't one-dimensional. We only benefit from the local multiplier effect
if there are businesses/services in the local community that support
each other and the local residents. Do we have accountants and lawyers,
etc? And if so, are they cost competitive with those in Chapel Hill,
Pittsboro, Durham? If the cost of doing business in the local
community is higher than it is in a physically close neighboring
community, why would anyone want to start their business here? We have a
systems problem and we need someone in the economic development
position that is really smart and really committed to building a local
business environment. But that means we also need community leaders who
will listen to that person and be willing to make changes in other
aspects of the community to achieve a long-term goal of economic
sustainability. I suspect that will require a good bit of short-term
pain for all of us.

Alderman Dan Coleman has a thoughtful piece in the Citizen called Economy, diversity and collaboration.

Release Date: February 1, 2011
Contact: Frank Clifton, Orange County Manager, (919) 245-2300

Shope Named Interim Director of Economic Development for Orange County

HILLSBOROUGH, NC – Frank Clifton, Orange County Manager, announced the appointment of Gary L. Shope as Interim Economic Development Director for Orange County starting today, February 1, 2011.

As the Interim Economic Development Director, Shope will be responsible for creating and implementing strategies to enhance and promote the economic well-being of Orange County. He will also oversee the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitor’s Bureau.

Shope comes to Orange County with extensive background in recruiting businesses and corporations who offer jobs to area residents. Beginning with the North Carolina Department of Commerce, Shope recruited during an unprecedented period of global investment in North Carolina, particularly from the Far East, where he also became group manager for international business development.

Recognized as an innovator during more than 16 years at the Research Triangle Foundation, Shope nurtured an international network of corporate and professional alliances that helped advance the global reputation of the Research Triangle Park. He served as vice president of the Research Triangle Foundation for 16 years attracting firms such Cisco Systems, Syngenta, Biogen Idec, Eisai, Credit Suisse, and Cree Semiconductor.

His professional background includes positions in both the public and private sectors. While working with The Sanford Holshouser Business Development Group, LLC, Shope provided leadership in economic advancement, including serving as a team member on the development of the initial “Mini-Hub” project for the Research Triangle Partnership. This project provided novel real estate solutions for the region’s technology-based recruitment effort.

Shope's educational background includes a bachelor’s degree from West Virginia Wesleyan College and a Masters of Pubic Administration degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“Gary’s proven track record of attracting a variety high tech firms to this region are skills Orange County can put to use today! I believe he will do a great job as we reformulate our economic goals and programs.” Clifton said.

Shope is excited about the new challenge. “I’m confident that my experience in recruiting technology & knowledge based jobs and fostering entrepreneurship, fits well with the objectives of the Board of Commissioners to create well paying jobs and tax base enhancements in Orange County,” Shope said.

(photo available on request)

David Hunt

Orange County, NC

Deputy Clerk/ Information Specialist


I'll try to reserve judgement until the man has had a chance to get to work, or at least to actually get the job. The press release says nothing about how long we will have an interim Director, or how the Manager plans to hire a permanent one.I have to admit, I already don't find this very encouraging. Nothing about Shope's background described above tells me that he brings an understanding of what makes Orange County unique, nor that he has any experience with economic development that isn't at odds with social and environmental issues (what our local Chamber calls "the triple bottom line"). I hope Frank Clifton sees something that isn't apparent yet, but I fear this may be another sign of disconnect between the Manager and the elected officials of the County. Which is a bigger problem than even whether our Economic Development Director "gets" Orange County.

Ruby, I too will reserve judgment. However, his focus on technology is a better fit for Orange County than, say, a Cosco or Walmart. My only concern follows yours: will he adhere to the triple bottom line. If he does, this could be a positive step for the County.

Technology businesses or Costco/Walmart is a false dichotomy.  You can't have an economy built around Costco/Walmart but OTOH you can't have an economy without Costco/Walmart or something(s) that serves an equivalent function. We can attract tech companies or other kinds of companies or no companies but regardless of that the people here will need to buy goods and service from someone be it Costco, Walmart or some other stores/restaurants/barbers/etc.

I didn't hear any mention of propagating & supporting small local businesses, cultivating our growing local food economy, issues of energy & water - all the foundational components of a strong local economy. The Economy is not going to return to what it was - no matter how many pundits and Wall Street anointed experts say it is. Of course, we should welcome an ethical corporate partner who will make an ethical commitment to Orange County. We also need to seriously consider an eco-industrial park in Orange County. Hopefully we'll hear that Shope brings more perspectives and expertise than basic corporate recruiting. 

"The economy is not going to return to what it was - no matter how many pundits and Wall Street anointed experts say it is." It's somewhat a hobby of mine to track outlandish predictions and although your statement is vague it seems possible that there's one in there.  The economy is not going to return to what it was?  Would you care to be speciific?  Because although I don't know specifically what will happen and when, I feel pretty sure that the economic downturn of the last couple years isn't going to result in a permanently hugely different economy than we had before.  I mean, change will continue to occurr as it always has but I get the impression there is more to your statement than that.  Maybe there's no outlandish prediction in there at all but in case there is I have to investigate.

Given that the root causes of the Great Recession have not been addressed, the most outlandish prediction is the one we've seen & heard in the media several times a week over the last year or so. We are continually told that the recession is over, the economy is on the upswing, etc. This is usually next to an article about massive lay-offs in state government somewhere, rising unemployment, or record corporate profits. I think it was after Obama's State of the Union message that the economy was back on the right track that a poll was taken in NC in which about 80% said they didn't think the recession was over.Our leadership from local to federal is ignoring the massive hemmorhaging of our financial and social systems caused by the Afghan & Iraq Wars expenditures, plus the handful of other conflicts that the U.S. is burning money in.  The Republican/Democrat duopoly is clueless about how to meet our energy needs as oil becomes more scarce & expensive and global climate change manifests in more destructive ways.The corporations that control the government are like the frat boys that just want to get to the next party, bully whoever they need to in order to score the booze they want, and try to get laid with or without consent. The major media are owned by these corporations and usually act as little more than propaganda machines to distract and confuse the citizenry so that the corporations can continue their colonization of us. We are facing a juggernaut of ignorance and the best we can do at this point is become stronger locally in our communities and weather the storm that is already forming.  

I'm glad I don't think like you because if I did I'd be searching for the hghest building I could find to throw myself off of.  It must be draining to be so downcast.  Maybe things aren't that bad and in fact I think that on a certain level you agree with that.  I suspect you don't think things are actually that bad, rather you just think they'd be better if ideas you agreed with were more in the majority view.  If you truly do think things are that bad then that implies to me that the constant rise of humanity for the last bajillion years has just now peaked and begun a downward slide, which I tend to doubt, and strongly. As far as oil scarcity, are you familiar with the recently resolved Simmons-Tierney bet?  That's an example of outlandish predictions that I like to keep track of since frankly in the name of critical thinking people that say such outlandish things needs to be held accountable.  The price of oil is someday going to go up so much that oil won't be of much use to us anymore but if anyone thinks the whole planet is going to be using bikes and eating food they cultivated themselves in their backyard because the cost of transportation is so high then they need to be held accountable too.  Some people in this area actually believe it.  And if you want to be strong locally in your community then project #1 is evicting UNC.  You can't get much more non-local than a large university.  But not only does a large university here help us even though most things about it aren't local, it also helps the people all over the state and country who take money out of their pockets and send it here.  The concept is even in the name, "university."  Universe.  Universities aren't truly local to anyone and yet they help everyone.  The same goes for what we're on right now, namely the Internet.  The answer isn't "local," the answer is "smart."  Sometimes smart equates with local but other times it doesn't.


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