“Going local” vs. state law: is local always better?

In the ongoing controversy over the infamous peeling wayfinding signs, one question frequently heard is “Why wasn’t the contract given to a local company?” — something that only intensified after the Tourism Development Authority yesterday awarded the sign repair contract to Ohio-based Geograph, Inc. It turns out that a state law designed to prevent favoritism collides square in the face with Asheville’s preference for all things local.

Under the state laws controlling local government contracts (the TDA used hotel tax dollars for the project), the agency has to accept the lowest competitive bid, regardless of whether it comes from a local company or not.

For those interested, the School of Government has a comprehensive, if extremely detailed, summary of the laws and how they work.

There’s reason for the law: It’s intended to prevent backroom deals of the “good ‘ol boy network” variety, with contracts going to favored companies who might deliver expensive, shoddy work, while another company may have done it more efficiently, for less taxpayer dollars.

However, Ashevilleans do love their local business, so it’s become a common remark in the course of the controversy that the TDA’s error lay in not giving the contract to a local sign-maker, with some even calling for changing the state laws to favor local companies. The TDA, for its part, claims that no local companies submitted competitive bids for the original project and that the only one that did so in the bidding for the repair contract did so in conjunction with a company from South Carolina and didn’t meet all the TDA’s criteria.

Of course, Ashevilleans don’t always regard local companies consistently. Developer Stuart Coleman’s Black Dog Realty was local, but its attempted Parkside development was condemned by many, in part because of the perception that the sale of parkland for the project was exactly the kind of deal the aforementioned state laws were designed to prevent.  Conversely, there’s been little outrage (except for a complaint by Commissioner Bill Stanley) over the awarding of the $3.1 million Pack Library renovations contract to Charlotte-based over Gleeson Snyder instead of local companies Goforth Builders or Perry Bartsch Jr. Construction Co. In that case, Gleeson Snyder has completed the renovations earlier than expected.

There are good, solid arguments for investing and buying locally, especially in the amount of money and jobs it keeps within an area’s economy. At the same time, perhaps local isn’t always better. Local companies are just as capable of poor work, overpricing and corruption as those from elsewhere, while outside businesses on plenty of occasions do a solid, efficient job. Just something to keep in mind as the debate proceeds, as I doubt this is the last time this issue will arise.

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10 thoughts on ““Going local” vs. state law: is local always better?

  1. chanzy

    Yes, keeping things at arms length is wise. But keeping things too far away, in this case, has created a lack of accountability which now has created greater project expense and damaging pr for Asheville’s tourism industry. Lowest bidder? How ’bout most qualified, most accountable requirements? The controversy began as some folks felt the signs were unwelcome and then the odd peeling galvanized public opinion. I believe now, all signs are peeling. As this project is highly visible, a local or even state company would feel far greater pressure to make things right, if only because people might know where they lived! The TDA has a tough battle on their hands. The signs should all be removed, as immediately as possible so our cityscape doesn’t also have to endure these eyesores for much longer.

  2. “so our cityscape doesn’t also have to endure these eyesores for much longer.”

    They are a constant reminder of inept management. How does a million plus contract get let without any sort of practical recourse if things go horribly awry?

  3. Paul -V-

    A good auditor would go a long way to solving this problem. Cheaper isn’t always better.

  4. I am concerned that the TDA has the power to junk up our cityscape without public input. The sign “designers” have obviously never been to Asheville. They just sat in there office, pulled a design they did for anywhere USA and added a couple of quotes from look homeward angel. The main “Icon” coming off the interstate is a complete joke, the design intent must be have been to completely not fit in with Asheville. If the signs never peeled they still failed. Many of the signs block existing signs (Entrance to the Arboretum) others were installed behind trees to be almost invisible (Nature Center). Some of the signs seem as if they were just extras (Crest Center?) has the Crest Center ever seen a tourist? I would say that more tourist have gone to Little Pigs BBQ where is there sign?
    I agree with Chanzy and D.Dial.

  5. At least the peeling signs are good for a laugh line. A local resident at Tuesday night’s Franklin Town Board of Aldermen meeting compared the accuracy of his water meter to Asheville’s peeling signs. LOL.

  6. If the signs are symbolic of the job TDA, Cahmber of Commerce and Convention & Tourism are doing for our community….well that symbol is not very a-peel-ing.

  7. GabrielV

    The story that needs to be covered is why the company that installed the signs isn’t here fixing the crap they provided us.

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