Editor’s note: This is the third of a three-part series examining the ongoing controversy surrounding the NCTDA.Dave Emmett, meet Dale Carnegie.

If the North Carolina Technological Development Authority is to regain its status as a key player in the state’s economic growth plans, President Emmett will have to follow the advice of the famed schmoozer and win a lot of friends and influence many people – the quicker the better.

Following a blistering state audit last winter that questioned the TDA’s spending practices, the agency’s state support was cut off cold turkey. Now, the agency finds itself with a year to regain state funding or find another source of revenue before it runs out of money.

Emmett has met several times this year with officials from the governor’s office, the state Department of Commerce and the General Assembly to update them on changes made by the agency in response to the audit and to curry favor.

“Mostly they’ve acknowledged the good work we have done historically and say they would like to see it continue,” he says. “We’re getting a lot of verbals. Our challenge in the next year is to convert that to financial support.”

At least one media outlet says that shouldn’t happen until Emmett resigns – or is forced out – and new management is in place at the TDA. The Business Journal of Raleigh wrote in a March editorial that since the problems at the agency occurred on Emmett’s watch, he can’t be trusted to ensure wise use of taxpayer money in the future.

“Emmett needs to come forward, accept responsibility, open the group’s financial records for review and step aside,” the editorial said. “If Emmett stays, the TDA likely will suffer more because of its financial struggle. And that is not good for fledgling North Carolina companies.”

Board behind him

But that apparently is the only quarter from which a call for Emmett’s resignation has come. Several current and former TDA board members have put their faith in him to restore the agency’s reputation and push forward once again with small business development services statewide.

“Dave has learned a lot during this process and is a much more seasoned leader because of it,” TDA Chairman John McConnell says. “He’s one of the most honest, hard-working guys I’ve ever seen. People always make mistakes, but you try to learn from them and move on. That’s the case here.”

Former State Treasurer Harlan Boyles, who recently joined the TDA board, said he has been quickly impressed by Emmett’s knowledge and manner.

“I have great admiration for him,” Boyles says. “I think we (the board) need to give him the tools he needs to survive and be successful.”

Emmett says he would step down if it meant the freeze on state funding would be lifted, but it doesn’t appear that those two issues are linked.

“If the lawmakers (asked for my resignation), I’d be gone the day they said it,” he says. “I’ve asked them that. ‘Am I the problem here? Would me leaving cause us to be more fundable?’ The across-the-board feedback is that that’s not what they’re looking for.”

Even the TDA’s most vocal critics are hesitant to go after Emmett’s head.

Dennis Patterson of the State Auditor’s Office says that it’s up to the TDA board to make personnel decisions and that the office would just like to see more board members appointed by the governor and the legislature to improve accountability.

Cari Boyce, communications director for Gov. Mike Easley who ordered the funding freeze last December even before the audit was released, declines to comment on Emmett’s position.

Emmett says he tries to take the criticism in stride and not let it distract him from his mission of restoring state funding or landing grants from foundations and federal agencies in the coming months so the TDA can resume its activities.

“I stay here and fight because I feel TDA can be an important component of the vision for the future,” he says. “It would be easy to fold up the tent and say, ‘No one loves us anymore, and it’s too hard.’ But what happens? What do you tell these 60 companies in the incubators who have come to count on our support? … I think we have a handful of promising companies, and just one could have a huge impact on the future of the state.”


Tuesday: Where Does TDA Fit into NC’s Development Picture? www.localtechwire.com/article.cfm?u=2254&k=19&I=06

Monday: Clock Is Ticking on TDA:www.localtechwire.com/article.cfm?u=2244