The Southwestern Commission was created in November 1965 by concurrent, joint resolution of the counties and municipalities within the seven county region. It was within this same time period that COGs all across the U.S. were formed. Initially, the driving factor behind this movement was money. Between 1965 and 1975, state legislatures and the US Congress created thousands of grant-in-aid programs totaling billions of dollars in funds available to local governments. Funds were appropriated for water supplies, sewer systems, housing, solid waste, emergency medicine, juvenile delinquency, recreation, health care, law enforcement, economic development, job training, senior citizens services and a plethora of other purposes.
Local governments needed state and federal aid. State and federal legislators desired to prevent duplication and mismanagement of the local projects and services they funded, while state and federal auditors demanded that the grants be administered properly. Of the hundreds of conditions imposed on grants, the most universal were (and remain today) the requirements that applicants demonstrate partnership, economy-of-scale, regionalism, efficiency, leveraging, intergovernmental cooperation and written proof that a high priority was (is) placed on engaging in joint ventures with neighboring local units.
In the 1960s, few forums existed anywhere in the nation with a stated mission of ensuring that these specific objectives could and would be seriously addressed. Nobody was in business – privately or publicly – to provide grant management services. Accordingly, the Southwestern Commission (and all COGs nationwide) was initially created with the primary intent of assisting member governments in their pursuit of state and federal money. The Commission’s original bylaws state that the organization’s objectives were: “…to develop regional plans and funding of programs on matters affecting …human resources, education, housing, health, transportation, criminal justice, recreation…environment, open space, land use…water supplies and sewer systems…and in other matters as authorized…”
THE COMMISSION TODAY
The Southwestern Commission remains the conduit for member governments to obtain funds from a variety of sources. The difference today is that federal and state grants now represent a much smaller share of project revenue. Many current local government projects have zero federal or state grant funds included in their budgets, with loans (both public and private), non-profit grants, and philanthropic foundations collectively becoming the more dominant resources.
Rapidly improving technological capabilities have streamlined the process of grant administration - we can reach all of the member governments in an instant with email and phone calls. However, the heart of regional cooperation is intergovernmental collaboration and for many, face-to-face meetings remain important. The Southwestern Commission staff are trained as professional facilitators, and the Commission actively assists with conflict resolution and dispute mediation. Our primary “new century” currency is relationship capital.
In addition to changes in government funding, administrative procedures, and facilitation methods, the region has changed as well. Southwestern North Carolina is rapidly growing and as the population increases, so does demand on local government to provide the needed services and infrastructure. The Southwestern Commission is a valued resource in land use planning, economic and workforce development, and in providing needed services to our aging population.