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Partnership Closer to Getting Its Money

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With two-thirds of its budget nearly jettisoned, Richmond Partnership President and CEO Greg Wingfield seems likely to secure the $390,000 that Chesterfield County has held back, and has changed a mayor's mind about the group's worth.

The scrambling started in March, when Chesterfield put its membership fee to the partnership in escrow. The Board of Supervisors wanted to evaluate what it was getting in return for its money.

Wingfield says he met with Board Chairman Ed Barber and County Administrator Lane Ramsey several times. A primary issue is a little more than $600,000 in contracts the partnership gives to the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce.

That money goes toward the Small Business Development Center's workforce development and business retention efforts, Wingfield says, which helps the partnership attract new business to the region. The chamber is better suited to handle such efforts, he says.

Barber wonders whether the outsourcing fits the partnership's mission. "It's a lot of money for the chamber to become dependent on," he says.

Barber says the board of supervisors is considering releasing the county's payment to the partnership on July 1 with the intention of studying the matter further and making a more definitive decision next year.

"We've kind of laid out areas of concern," says Barber. "The partnership has said can you give us more time?"

The Board of Supervisors is likely to finalize a decision at its June 22 meeting. Wingfield says he understands that the administration "will recommend full funding." Barber says it's likely the board will concur, at least for this year, in order to give the partnership another year to prove its mettle.

As for the city, a budget hadn't been finalized at press time — and was mired in debate between Mayor L. Douglas Wilder and City Council. But the mayor, who had eliminated funding for the partnership in his version of the budget, has agreed to restore its $390,000. So the mayor and City Council at least agree on that.

Wingfield says he met with the mayor, who'd been listening to a number of business people and members of his administration — such as Chief Administrator William Harrell, a member of the partnership's board — about the value of the partnership.

The officials' questioning of the partnership has served as a wake-up call, Wingfield says. "We probably have not done ... the best job of communicating what we do with the local elected officials," Wingfield says.

And it's time to reevaluate the organization, he says — whether it should continue as is, give up its contracting with the chamber or reinvent itself entirely.

"It's been a positive experience," Wingfield says. "Because we're 11 years old, and periodically you need to stop and say, 'What is the model we need for the next 10 years?'" — Jason Roop and Scott Bass



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