Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer
While many in Macon County may never have heard of or paid attention to the Macon County Economic Development Commission (EDC) in the past, the global pandemic has caused local residents and business owners to take notice due to stay-at-home and quarantine mandates causing extraordinary strain on the economy.
Vice mayor Barbara McRae, who serves as secretary on the advisory board of the EDC, said the last meeting was spent “brainstorming the possible ramifications of the disease, and we tried to consider what we could do. Clearly, we have been sidelined by events …”
The commission is made up of more than a dozen representatives of businesses and service entities in Macon County. The purpose of the commission is to focus on, as its mission statement attests, “Creating a climate for business and industry investment, innovative entrepreneurship and quality job creation in Macon County, North Carolina.”
McRae explained EDC’s role in the community.
“We hold meetings every other month (not now though), and typically hear a presentation on a subject of importance of particular interest. These have ranged from reports on the school’s STEM program (which inspired us to support county funding for it), to reports on the employment situation, to tours of local industries and presentations by their managers. Members represent the spectrum of industry and business in the county – manufacturing plants, major employers, chambers of commerce, bankers, the two towns, etc.
“Board members also assist with EDC functions, such as the annual BizWeek banquet and activities. We also advocate for projects or programs that members agree are in the best interest of the county. For that reason, we have stepped into issues like the opiate crises, which on the surface is not an economic development matter, but we have had to face the fact that it is. Recently, we agreed to do a strategic plan to guide our work going forward.”
Since March, the EDC has provided periodic e-newsletter updates regarding economic resources and news with the stated goal to “monitor the effects of the COVID-19 situation on our local economy and to identify programs or resources that might be of benefit to local businesses. As these programs become available, we will provide information and assistance.”
“Our immediate concern is working with strategic partners, the Chambers, SCC Small Business Center, municipalities, health department, to figure out how to safely reopen,” said EDC director Tommy Jenkins. “Hopefully, that will roll out here shortly, in the next few weeks. I know a lot of small business have applied for various loan programs. My encouragement to them is to be patient, stay in the queue, and stay in contact with your lender. Folks who are dealing with unemployment issues … obviously the systems weren’t built for the load it’s handling now. So people need to be patient but vigilant.”
Recently, the EDC has made the public aware of a COVID-19 Business Impact Survey, provided by the Southwestern Commission (Region A), which joined with regional economic development partners to establish the survey. “The data from the survey will be essential in developing mitigation strategies to assist businesses and communities during the pandemic and in the transition to a post COVID-19 economy.”
The survey, which asks for input “important to the future of our local and regional economies” is available on EDC’s website, www.maconedc.com. The EDC also established a new page on its website that offers coronavirus economic resources for and updates for Macon County businesses.
Jenkins is optimistic about Macon County’s economic future.
“Franklin’s going to come back. Highlands is going to come back. People are going to want to get out when reopening occurs. Maybe there won’t be a rush-out-the-door reopening because the public will be a little hesitant until they are confident they are safe, but we live in one of the most beautiful locations in the world, and people will always want to live, work, and visit here. If you look at Macon County, we are basically an entrepreneurial community. Our major and our smaller employers are entrepreneurial driven. And there is just a lot of local support from the public.”