Greensboro behaves like a hare when in reality we should act like a tortoise. It seems the city leaps from one fake pie in the sky idea to the next while other cities in North Carolina keep plugging along and catching up.
Say Yes is only the latest grand scheme that was going solve all the problems in public education and result in new industries flocking to Guilford County. But it appears to be the latest in a long line of too-good-to-be-true schemes.
Greensboro was going to attract Major League Baseball to the area. After all the hoopla died down, the reality was that this area had been used as a patsy so that the owners of the Minnesota Twins could get a better stadium deal in Minnesota. Even if the special restaurant tax referendum had passed, the area would have been left with a new tax and no Major League Baseball.
There was the Heart of the Triad (HOT). Greensboro was going to work with Guilford County, Winston-Salem, Kernersville, Oak Ridge, and Forsyth County to turn the area around Colfax into a mecca for new industry. Have you heard anything about HOT lately?
FedEx was going to come in here and transform the area; if we would build them a new runway, the economic impact was estimated at $4 billion. The battle over building a new runway for FedEx was long, bitter and loud. In the end the runway was constructed and FedEx built a $300 million facility, most of which it doesn’t use.
Currently the new runway attracts attention when Air Force One flies down from Washington and uses it to practice takeoffs and landings. And there is an annual Run on the Runway. But there hasn’t been the promised boon to the economy and the impact on the local economy ended when the construction was finished.
Project Haystack was going to make Guilford County the world headquarters for data centers. But, as of 2017, Project Haystack is an abandoned prison farm. The only regular activity out there is at the Guilford County Sheriff’s Department shooting range.
Now the hopes and dreams of the area are tied up in the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite. If an automobile manufacturing plant comes to the megasite then it is going to transform the area, bringing jobs and prosperity.
But for that to happen the State of North Carolina will have to agree to give millions, maybe a hundred million, in incentives to Greensboro. Since the Greensboro City Council insists on poking the bear, with the bear being the state legislature, the odds of that happening in the near term are slim.
Which brings us back around to Say Yes, the organization that was going to transform education in Guilford County.
We were told that every child who graduated from public school in Guilford County would receive a last dollar tuition scholarship. It turns out that was just more pie in the sky.
Say Yes appears to be able to finance last dollar scholarships for only a small percentage of those who received scholarships in 2016-2017. If you use the figures Say Yes has provided, about 85 percent of the scholarship money for 2016-2017 will have to be eliminated for Say Yes to remain solvent.
Say Yes has yet to offer a good explanation of how their figures could have been off by about 600 percent. Sometimes people drop a decimal point, which would put the figures off by 10 percent. Dropping two decimal points would put the figures off by 100 percent.
The question that Say Yes has failed to answer is how it could have been so wrong. Is it a question of incompetence or was the area being played once again? Did Say Yes come to Guilford County with promises that it knew it couldn’t keep to get support and is now cutting back to what it knew all along it could afford? It seems to either be a case of bait and switch or total incompetence, and one is as scary an explanation as the other.
Imagine if you and your spouse figured out that you could afford a rent payment of $900 a month. So you go house shopping on your own and through a slight miscalculation you sign a lease on a house for $6,100 a month. How could you possibly explain that to your spouse? If you signed a lease for $1,000 you could explain that you were going to have to tighten your belts to make the monthly payments, but how could anyone explain being off by over 600 percent?
I don’t think you can.
Say Yes appears to be simply another deal that was too good to be true, but Greensboro and Guilford County swallowed the sales pitch hook, line and sinker.
The Guilford County Board of Commissioners was the only elected body that asked any serious questions, and because of the overwhelming public support that had been stirred up, even the commissioners gave Say Yes their stamp of approval after being ridiculed for even questioning the program.
Both Greensboro and Guilford County have excellent budget and finance departments. In retrospect, doesn’t it seem like some elected officials should have said, “Let our guys look at your numbers and see what they think”?
In both Greensboro and Guilford County, the budget and finance departments hit their numbers every year. It’s hard to believe that even the smooth talking big city boys from Say Yes would have been able to pull the wool over their eyes. But everyone was in such a rush to get Say Yes going that the due diligence on the proposal was pushed aside.
If Say Yes had come to Guilford County and said, “If you can raise $42 million privately we can set up an endowment to pay last dollar scholarships for 15 percent to 20 percent of the graduates of Guilford County Schools,” it doesn’t seem likely they would have been able to raise $42 million. Offering scholarships primarily to low-income families is not going to help recruit new high paying industries to Guilford County because their employees won’t qualify for scholarships from Say Yes.
However, it will do the same thing that putting millions into affordable housing does for the area – attract more people to the area who need government assistance to get by. It’s not a recipe for growth but a recipe for financial disaster.
Another question that someone should be asking, since Say Yes is so obviously bad with figures, is how much did Say Yes actually raise in Guilford County. Is it really $42 million, or did they miscalculate like they did with the scholarships and it’s really $7 million and they were 600 percent off on revenue as well as expenditures?
Say Yes appears to be simply another pie in the sky deal that isn’t going to come close to doing what Guilford County was told it would do.
Maybe what Greensboro and Guilford County need to do is quit swinging for the fences and instead settle for some singles and doubles. If the community didn’t waste its time, energy and resources on going after the big fish that is going to solve all the economic problems in the area, we might have time to catch a whole bunch of little fish that would actually accomplish the goal.
Along those lines, the best thing Guilford County could do with Say Yes right now is say, “We’re not buying what you’re selling. We recommend you try selling your services in Greenville, South Carolina, Chattanooga, Tennessee,” or some other city that Greensboro considers a rival.
But what is far more likely to happen is that Say Yes will continue to struggle along in Guilford County, taking money out of the area that could be put to much better use with an organization that can count.