Carolina Journal News Reports
RALEIGH — Fragmentation of leadership and responsibilities has diminished the effectiveness of North Carolina’s publicly funded economic development agencies, says a private developer who once had dealings in the northeast area of the state.
He said the state Department of Commerce was once one of the best, aggressive, and well-organized in the country.
The establishment of regional development agencies in the mid-1990s changed that, he said.
"You no longer know who you are talking to. Who is in charge?" he said. "You need a strong leader. That was the Department of Commerce."
The developer said North Carolina’s Northeast Partnership, if asked for help, all too often took over a project and decided where in its 16-county region a business would locate.
The developer said "that region is controlled by [Senate President Pro Tem Marc] Basnight and by R.V. Owens (III)." Owens is Basnight’s nephew, chief fund-raiser, and a powerful influence in the Northeast.
"Everybody has to stay in line and stay in step," the developer said, "or there are negative ramifications held over their heads."
In a March, 2003 Carolina Journal article about a Raleigh businessman’s efforts to build an ethanol plant in the Northeast, an intermediary identified Basnight, Owens, and Basnight’s assistant Rolf Blizzard as the powers over the Northeast Partnership.
"Everyone knows they are the head of the Northeast Partners," said former Wake Forest Mayor Jim Perry in the story, who was a go-between for businessman Bill Horton and Northeast interests.
Perry also said Basnight’s name carries great significance in financial circles. He said when he meets with bank officials, "they know that I am there to speak for Marc Basnight."
Northeast developers, the private developer said, were often told to invite new businesses in the area to public events honoring Basnight, where they should be encouraged to "tell the Senator how appreciative they were of his efforts."
"Anything that’s ever happened out there," the developer said, "if it was good, they will say it was because of Marc Basnight."
Anyone not in line with that plan had to contend with "the redneck mafia," the developer said.
"It is that serious," he said.
Basnight’s office did not respond to questions submitted by electronic mail or to phone messages.
Chesser is an associate editor at Carolina Journal.