Cook: Maybe city and county will work things out, but ...

  • Posted: Sunday, March 17, 2013 12:54 a.m.

I’ve been grasping at straws lately — any evidence that Rowan County government is led by compassionate, constructive people who have the welfare of the entire county in mind.

I’ve come up empty-handed.

We need statesmen to lead the county out of the slump that started with the closing of Pillowtex in 2003. The recession added insult to injury. As the national and state economies slowly pick up, will Rowan also rise?

The News & Observer published a map last week that should disturb people here. Rowan was the only county in the Piedmont crescent that has lost population since the 2010 census.

Neighboring Cabarrus is among the top 10 fastest-growing counties in the state. Davie, Davidson, Iredell and Stanly counties all saw growth. But Rowan shrank from 138,428 on April 1, 2010, to 138,180 on July 1, 2012. The difference may seem small, only 248 people. But if the trend continues, the consequences for Rowan could be big.

Meanwhile, poverty grows. One U.S. Department of Agriculture report puts Rowan’s 2011 poverty rate at 18.9 percent, with nearly 30 percent of our children — 29.2 percent — living in poverty. That’s reflected in the growing number of children qualifying for free lunch in our public schools: more than 61 percent.

Don’t look down your nose at them. Those children’s ability to read and write — to provide an able and willing workforce for local businesses and industry — will play a big role in the economic future of our community.

So will the ability of local elected boards to collaborate with one another. On some things city and county must agree to disagree and move on. But when it comes to positioning the community to attract the jobs Rowan so desperately needs, neither the city nor the county should have to go it alone. A “get out of the way” mindset is toxic.

Positive signs are popping up — many of them in the city. They include new retail stores on Julian Road, a Courtyard Marriott and Panera Bread on East Innes Street. Nashville Nights opened downtown. A “nanobrewery” will be going in beside The Salty Caper.

Integro Technologies has announced plans to build a $4 million headquarters on South Main Street. The schools’ new central office will be next door, if all goes well.

Hutton Growth One, based in Chattanooga, Tenn., has an option to buy county land for another shopping center off Julian Road.

Badcock Furniture is opening a store in Salisbury Mall, breathing new life into that area.

Nearly all that growth is in the city, but it boosts the tax base for both the city and the county. What’s good for one is good for the other.

Say that again: What’s good for one is good for the other.

Government growth provides jobs and improves our quality of life, too — from the Yadkin River Bridge to new buildings at the Hefner VA Medical Center.

The push to get an I-85 interchange at Old Beatty Ford Road is said to be gaining momentum.

Rowan-Cabarrus Community College is celebrating its 50th anniversary and updating its campuses.

With the town board’s blessing, the LandTrust is nurturing a passive park into shape in Spencer.

The county has built a satellite jail and a 911 center.

City and county leaders have discussed establishing a business incubator.

Kannapolis leaders are talking about a new $20 million city hall and police station to be built on the N.C. Research Campus.

And Davie County, which is about a third the size of Rowan, is debating a new $53 million high school.

That’s a different county. Sorry. I got carried away.

By the way, there is someone looking out for the poor in our county. Rowan Helping Ministries is carrying out a $5 million expansion of its programs and buildings on North Long Street, including the homeless shelter and soup kitchen. God bless them.

Thirty-eight states allow recall votes. North Carolina is not one of them.

Maybe that’s a good thing. Perhaps our newly empowered leaders will learn to be less heavy-handed and abrasive and more fair-minded. They might realize how their words carry across the state and hurt the image of the very county they say they love.

They might, but so far we’ve seen no evidence. Once again, I’m grasping at straws.

Elizabeth Cook is editor of the Salisbury Post.

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