Partnership Has Failure To Communicate
The Greensboro City Council, sworn into office last month with a new mayor and three new members, appears to be wandering around town this month looking to make friends. This week it turned to the Greensboro Partnership, and was snubbed, as you would expect.
Earlier this month the City Council had a meet-and-greet with the Guilford County Board of Commissioners at the ACC Hall of Champions, where the elected officials ate, drank and talked, but no business took place.
Monday night, Jan. 27, in the boardroom of Brooks Pierce law firm on the 19th floor of the Renaissance Tower in downtown Greensboro, the City Council met with the Greensboro Partnership – the organization that every other city in the country calls the chamber of commerce. The council funds the Partnership, but has not been pleased with the Partnership of late, and this was supposed to be a chance for members of the two organizations to get together and discuss how to move forward together. This meeting was the exact opposite of the meeting at the ACC Hall of Champions. It was so scripted and boring that few questions were asked by anyone. One councilmember later said that questions were not asked because they didn’t want to prolong the agony.
The Partnership is charged with selling Greensboro to the rest of the world. A lot of sales involves listening and then determining what the buyer wants to hear. On that test the Partnership failed miserably. Instead of a meet-and-greet, or even a short presentation and long discussion, the council was subjected to one long, fairly boring PowerPoint presentation after another, with very little humor and only a few highlights.
Since this was supposed to be about the Partnership and what it does, why the first report was given by City Councilmember Zack Matheny remains a mystery. Matheny is chairman of the City Council’s Economic Development Committee, which came up with, not so much a plan for creating jobs, but a list recognizing the ongoing efforts by others to bring in new industry and jobs to Greensboro. Because he is running for Congress, there was also the requisite amount of Matheny tooting his own horn. According to Matheny, Greensboro is the first city in the country to create shovel-ready sites. It seemed like a stretch, but maybe no other city has ever created shovel-ready sites. And to his credit Matheny did pressure the rest of the council into spending some money and doing something rather than endlessly studying everything and doing nothing.
Matheny’s presentation does have some entertaining moments, and Matheny has gotten better at giving it, but the councilmembers have seen it, some more than once or twice.
After Matheny’s presentation on what the City Council Economic Development Committee has proposed. President of the Greensboro Partnership Pat Danahy gave a PowerPoint presentation on the Partnership. Nobody seems to know what the Partnership is or what it does, and this, sadly, was not enlightening.
It would appear from the muddled report that the Partnership has decided that the way to create more jobs is to create another division of the Partnership focused on entrepreneurship. It wasn’t clear who was doing this or exactly what they were doing, but having a division focused on entrepreneurship evidently is going to help.
A press release from October goes into more detail on this economic development plan. What the Partnership did was take Kathy Elliott, who was vice president of small business and entrepreneurship at the Chamber of Commerce, which is part of the Partnership, and make her vice president for entrepreneurship for the Greensboro Partnership. What that means to anyone outside the organization is anyone’s guess. It’s the kind of question it would have been helpful to answer for the City Council.
In Greensboro we have the Nussbaum Center for Entrepreneurship, which last fall the City Council gave $2 million. It might seem to some like that could take care of entrepreneurship in the city for a while.
Action Greensboro is a part of the Partnership. The long time director of Action Greensboro, April Harris, recently left and according to an article in the News & Record, Action Greensboro is going through a transition. The Partnership is the parent organization. The City of Greensboro is the funding organization. Doesn’t it seem logical that Danahy would have explained to the City Council why Harris was gone and what Action Greensboro was going to be doing going forward? From the newspaper article it appeared that Action Greensboro was going to become an economic development organization like Greensboro Economic Development Alliance (GEDA), another arm of the Partnership.
Councilmembers didn’t seem to know any more about what was going on with Action Greensboro than what was in the paper, and several later said they were interested, but nobody wanted to prolong the already lengthy presentations, so they didn’t ask.
Danahy might have asked the City Council what information they wanted about the Partnership. Danahy, for instance, didn’t get into what the Chamber of Commerce does in this organization, either.
After the meeting Mayor Nancy Vaughan simply said that it was not the meeting they had planned and they would have to have another.
Before they hold another meeting, someone needs to figure out what went wrong with this one, because the players were all there. It was held at a neutral site, and everybody seemed to have the same idea before the meeting about what should take place.
After Danahy finished, GEDA President Dan Lynch gave basically the same report he gives every time he comes before the council, about what a great job he is doing recruiting industry and bringing new jobs to the area. If the council believed his report then it wouldn’t be having problems with his organization. Many councilmembers believe that the report involves a bit too much exaggeration. Some councilmembers have asked privately that if GEDA is concentrating on bringing industries to the airport, and the city is paying for them to go to airshows and conferences all over the world, how did Boeing sneak up on them? If Lynch had gone into an explanation as to why he should get a pat on the back for getting in a proposal to Boeing, that would have been helpful to the council. Lynch just said that they should get a pat on the back, but not why the fact that Boeing was considering a new location for its new manufacturing facility was such shocking news to GEDA, when it was well known in the industry.
The most meaningful part of the presentation was from Bob Singer, perhaps because it wasn’t a PowerPoint presentation. Singer is a member of the North Carolina Economic Development Board, and he went over some of the changes that are coming down from the state. The legislation to revamp the state economic development system got hung up in the legislature. The fact that the law hadn’t passed slowed down Gov. Pat McCrory’s implementation of a public-private partnership, but the legislation is supposed to get passed the first week of the short session in May, and the governor is putting all the pieces in place so that they can go full steam ahead as soon as it passes.
Singer said that under the new legislation, Greensboro is going to be in the Piedmont Triad prosperity zone and there will be a state office in this zone. One thing Greensboro should be working on is making sure that the state office for this region is in Greensboro. As the state’s third largest city that might seem like a no-brainer, but both High Point and Winston-Salem are going to have good arguments on why it should be placed there.
Russell Stellfox of Purolator gave a brief impromptu talk about how much GEDA helped him in his business. A few more testimonials from businessmen and a lot less rhetoric would have been helpful.
Vaughan, as a city councilmember before she was elected mayor, took on Downtown Greensboro Inc. (DGI). The result is that DGI has a new president, a new board and a new contract with the City of Greensboro. DGI is no longer a club of certain downtown property owners who get a huge pile of city money to spend as they see fit, but is becoming an organization that actually promotes the entire downtown.
The Partnership, from its presentation, seems to have many of the same problems that DGI had when Vaughan got involved. It has an entrenched leadership that is more interested in preserving its way of life than accomplishing the goals of the City Council.
Vaughan said that she wanted to have another meeting, but if the Partnership folks don’t do a better job at this next meeting they might want to start looking for funding from somewhere else, or for a different line of work. Vaughan appears to have a very low tolerance for good old boy organizations that aren’t doing their job.
BY John Hammer
January 30, 2014
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