The Fayetteville-Cumberland County Chamber of Commerce has embarked on a new economic development strategy.
The chamber has hired a consultant, Garner Economics LLC, to assist the community with its overall economic development plan for Fayetteville and Cumberland County. Garner Economics, based in Atlanta, is an economic development and site location consulting firm.
Or, as Jay Garner, the president of Garner Economics, put it: "We're site-elimination consultants."
That's because a company will request specific criteria - what it must have to succeed in a community and what it would like to have - during a site location process.
"It's our job to start eliminating those communities that don't show the best, don't meet the right criteria," he said.
Garner discussed his solutions for creating economic vitality during a Chamber of Commerce informational meeting Monday at the Airborne & Special Operations Museum.
Garner was the featured speaker. He has been in the economic development profession for 32 years and is a former chief executive officer of the Asheville Chamber of Commerce.
"Economic development is always, always, always sold on the local level," he told an audience of more than 110 business people, military representatives and government officials. "I always say, 'Market yourself regionally and sell locally.' "
Prospective companies are looking at a labor force from the outlying region, Garner said, and they draw from that labor force.
He and members of his staff are expected to be in town through the end of the week meeting with focus groups. As a whole, the representatives of Garner Economics will "take a deep dive into our community," said Chris Bostock, chairman of the chamber's board.
The final report is expected by late March.
Bostock said the chamber board and others involved in this area need to "constantly take a fresh and objective approach toward our economic development efforts." This, he said, is necessary to compete in a globally competitive world and because "the community is at a crossroads. The BRAC effort is largely complete."
Some city and county leaders have been critical of the Fayetteville-Cumberland County Chamber of Commerce for not bringing in enough jobs. The chamber receives about $800,000 in public money for economic development duties.
Bostock declined to say how much the consulting initiative cost. The chamber is a private organization.
"I'd like to stay away from that," he said.
He said the cost of hiring Garner Economics is being funded by the community and through the Linda Lee Allan Legacy Fund. That fund, created about a year ago, has raised $2 million from private contributions to help spark growth in economic development, Bostock said.
To succeed, Garner said, communities must focus on a few targets and on what they are good at. Differentiate yourself, he told the audience, and be innovative in every endeavor - from providing efficient government service to supporting entrepreneurial business.
The competition for investment dollars is fierce with 3,141 counties and more than 18,000 municipalities in the running, Garner said. An internal strategy is necessary.
"Your (chamber of commerce) website is your No. 1 marketing tool," he said. "We're looking at you before you know that we're looking at you. So, if you don't convey or establish yourself professionally and effectively, you're not going to get a second chance."