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AdvantageWest CEO defends agency targeted for elimination

The CEO of AdvantageWest, the economic development agency that would be dissolved under legislation progressing in the state Senate, said the agency has been an effective and innovative business recruiter.

Scott Hamilton, who has led the Asheville-based agency since 2009, said that AdvantageWest has been a state and  national leader in its approach to recruiting new plants and other employers and helping local factories expand. It created the first industrial site certification program in the U.S., he said, a model that the state Department of Commerce has put into place statewide.
AdvantageWest assisted in recruiting efforts for 160 projects and coordinated 55 client visits, including high-profile successes like Google, Sierra Nevada and New Belgium. Companies announced 14 major projects in 2012, each adding more than 100 jobs or at least $10 million in new investment. AdvantageWest's advanced manufacturing team conducted 63 visits to the region's 23 counties in 2012, a level of local service that an agency out of Raleigh could not match.
The Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Harry Brown, R-Jacksonville, would dissolve four economic development agencies created by the Legislature; those in Charlotte, the Triad and Triangle existed before the state added agencies to serving the more rural areas of the state. Hamilton said state Sen. Tom Apodaca, a Hendersonville Republican, had called the agencies ineffective.
Hamilton, who was the Henderson County industry recruiter before he left for Advantage West in 2006, said AdvantageWest's entrepreneurship program had leveraged $40,000 to make $1 million in loans.
"We have taken state money over the last decade and received about $14 million while we've been able to leverage $13.6 million," he said. "We've been able to invest other dollars."
Hamilton said Advantage West officials met Sierra Nevada's site consultant at a meeting in Tulsa and helped identify 11 sites in five counties in the region.
"We did all the coordination of that and once they got it down to Henderson County we kind of stepped back," he said. "We don't negotiate deals because we don't have the authority to grant incentives."
The regional agency pursue leads and works with local development offices and the state Department of Commerce.
Hamilton said no one has talked directly to him about scrapping the agency.
"This bill was a surprise," said Hamilton, who lives the Rugby area of Henderson County. "They did a committee substitute and they changed the wording on it and we did not find out about it until after it passed committee."
AdvantageWest sent Henderson County 32 leads in 2012 and five so far this year, Hamilton said.