Four Oaks, Dunn Move Ahead Without Benson

Leaders in Dunn and Four Oaks agreed to move forward with an economic development alliance.

Crossroads of America Economic Development Alliance still a go

By Eliot Duke
Dunn Daily Record

Dunn City Council felt a two-town partnership beat nothing at all.

Council members on Thursday night decided to keep Dunn in the proposed I-95/I-40 Crossroads of America Economic Development Alliance after Benson commissioners in May backed out of the partnership that also included Four Oaks. The three towns closed out 2020 agreeing to form the alliance as a way to recruit new industries and promote economic development along the I-95/I-40 corridor the towns share in common.

One of the preliminary steps of the partnership centered around each town allocating $50,000 for three years towards a nonproift corporation created to pay operational expenses associated with any economic development.

Four Oaks already approved the line item and Dunn seemed poised to follow suit when Benson commissioners on May 4 voted not to fund the contribution. Benson commissioners, after appearing to be on board with the alliance at the initial presentation in December, raised an assortment of questions during its meeting to discuss the partnership before eventually deciding it wasn’t worth the hassle.

“Benson better concentrate on Benson stuff and not worry about what’s going on in Four Oaks or what’s going on in Dunn,” Benson Commissioner Jim Johnson said May 4. “I don’t think the alliance will be the tool we need to market property in Benson.”

Dunn City Manager Steve Neuschafer and Mayor William Elmore maintained contact with representatives from Four Oaks in an effort to salvage the alliance. Neuschafer said that while three towns would be better than two, the relationship between Dunn and Four Oaks still can lead to positive economic opportunities for both.

“(Four Oaks) have really expressed an interest to continue on with the alliance between the two communities,” said Neuschafer. “It’s something that the mayor and I feel could probably work out. Obviously, it would be a better and stronger alliance if we had all three communities in it. At this point, just to get it organized, get it functioning and starting the process of the task of economic development, I don’t think there’s a better time to get the ball rolling.”

Elmore, along with Benson Mayor Jerry Medlin and Four Oaks Mayor Linwood Parker, conducted much of the preliminary groundwork for the alliance and told council members he felt the two towns could still make it successful.

“We feel it’s a good thing for both communities,” Elmore said. “It will be a bit different than we would have if Benson had been in the center. We’ll be marketing it in such a way … Dunn will be first town south of the crossroads and Four Oaks will be first town north of the crossroads. We’re still getting the same bang for our buck, I feel like. I feel like it’s a really good thing. We had hopes all three communities would go together, but it just did not work out at the end of the day. I would say to the board let’s get behind this and continue on with our plans if the board sees fit to do so.”

Dunn City Council backed the idea last December and remained onboard despite the unexpected defection.

“We all kind of agreed that it was a good idea when we talked about it before with the three cities,” said Councilman David Bradham. “I don’t know that this changes anything. If there is two, Four Oaks is still very much involved in this and is a great partner. I think this is good for our city and it doesn’t really change how I feel about any of it. I’m behind it and support it.”

Other council members agreed.

“I think we should move forward with it,” Councilman Frank McLean said. “Benson may eventually come back.”

Neuschafer said the (memorandum of understanding) between the two towns would require some relatively minor revisions, but everything else involving the alliance is in place.

Elmore expressed confidence that the city also would be able to secure grant funding to help cover the investment.