David Post: A letter to local leaders
I usually don’t write New Year’s letters, but given how things seem to be starting off, here’s one I’m sending out to Rowan County Commission Chair Jim Sides and Salisbury Mayor Paul Woodson.
Dear Jim and Paul,
New leadership ushers in a renewed sense of optimism.
With a new year come new hopes, and new blood on both the County Commission and the City Council. You own the bully pulpit. When you talk, people listen. If you lead, people will follow.
It’s a great opportunity for both of you, and for Rowan County and Salisbury.
Working in the U.S. Senate 20 years ago, I thought government was polarized. Sure, it could be frustrating, but there seemed to be a sense of purpose. Things happened. As a member of Sen. Terry Sanford’s (Democrat) staff, I worked with Jesse Helm’s (Republican) staff to defeat tax legislation that would have hurt North Carolina.
On a bankruptcy bill, Sen. Bill Bradley told me (I wanted to talk basketball but was too nervous), “I disagree, but I’ll vote for it.”
At a banking committee staff meeting, I suggested an idea — without Sanford’s prior approval — about dealing with the bank failures. He should have fired me, but he supported me. Democrat staffers didn’t like it. Republicans did. The White House called — pretty heady experience — and I spent the weekend with Republicans next door to the White House drafting new banking laws.
President George H.W. Bush agreed to tax increases knowing it would cost him the presidency. Recently, he said he did the right thing.
In 1990, Rowan County had a 3 percent unemployment rate. Today, it’s about 10 percent. Rowan County has lost thousands of textile jobs that are not coming back. Creating the framework to create new jobs is your job.
Food Lion, once our largest employer, is in trouble. Many functions have been moved to Maine. If Food Lion is sold, more may move. Even now, many of its Salisbury executives don’t live here. They commute and spend their money in other counties.
The 1960s song, “Wishin’ and hopin’ and thinkin’ and prayin’,” won’t work now.
Robert van Geons (economic development), Jim Meacham (tourism development) and Randy Hemann (Downtown Salisbury) work hard, but they work for you. For Rowan County to work, you need to make it happen.
Do the easy stuff first. Have coffee and figure out the schools’ central office. If President Reagan and Speaker Tip O’Neill could fix the tax code and Social Security, you can fix one building. Wherever it goes — downtown, the mall, somewhere else — will have some economic impact on its location, but it won’t change Rowan County’s economy.
Find one county in the nation where the county works and the county seat doesn’t, or vice versa. Your success is dependent on — not independent of — each other.
Economic growth requires the right environment: an educated workforce, infrastructure, and bold ideas.
Rowan County has three colleges. Use them. Local economies have prospered from the growth of Davidson, Elon and Campbell colleges.
Be creative. Many downtowns are growing with more trees and greenery, revised traffic patterns, narrower streets, wider sidewalks, more “brick streets” and better lighting.
Ask the pretty girl for a date. Amazon is building dozens of new warehouses to provide same-day delivery. Five million people live within two hours of Rowan County. Get on an airplane. Knock on Amazon’s door. Or ask me to. I did that for Historic Salisbury Foundation and paid my own expenses.
Be bold. Take some risk. (Yes, it’s easier to cut taxes and save everyone $17, but that won’t create one job.) Julian Robertson, Ralph Ketner and Mitt Romney are rich because they took risks. Consider an Entrepreneur’s Fund. Set aside, say, $2 million from tax dollars, dedicated to making loans to small business startups. You’ll probably lose your next election because success takes a while, but what if there’s another Food Lion out there?
Instead of moaning about Fibrant or “wishin’ and hopin’,” do what Google did. In East Kansas City, Google offered high speed Internet and free rent to new high-tech startups. Young developers are flocking to Silicon Valley on the Missouri. Partner with the owners of some of our vacant buildings and give it away to new businesses.
Be Apple. Think different.
Be Reagan and O’Neill. Understand that you need each other.
Be Ben Franklin. Know that you are stronger together than separately.
Be King Arthur. Use a round table and invite whoever wants to come.
You can do this. 140,000 people are counting on you.
Happy New Year,
David Post lives in Salisbury.