David Post: There will be no winner in airport de-annexation battle
“This has nothing to do with retribution and payback.”
“We don’t want a partnership.”
“We want control.”
A paraphrase: Our partners don’t have honest intentions.
“They act behind our back.”
“I don’t see a lot of cooperation.”
“All we need is for you to get out of our way.”
“This is not related to other beefs we have.” (So, there are more.)
These divisive comments by the county commissioners about de-annexing the airport will get them re-elected, but that will not encourage business growth. Their rhetoric could apply to the school office or to the Salisbury Planning Board’s (full disclosure: I’m a member) suggestion that a county-wide partnership explore development of I-85. Or to water-sewer lines. Or to Fibrant. Or to the 911 call center. Maybe even dog catchers.
Do they believe this language will create jobs? Do they really care about jobs? If so, how can any existing businesses can feel secure or want to grow here? Why would any business want to relocate here? Businesses want stability. Certainty. No hassle. Government that works. Government that is a partner. Instead, not working together — more importantly, not wanting to work together — has become part of the county’s DNA.
Over the past 50 years, North Carolina taught the South how a poor state could transform itself with a focus and financial commitment (yes, taxes) to education. Successful counties tapped into the technologies of the future. Rowan County missed that boat. Being conservative, Salisbury-Rowan clung to the past, moaning the loss of thousands of low-paying textile jobs that will never come back.
A hundred years ago, Salisbury was one of North Carolina’s largest cities. When built in 1903, the Grubb-Wallace-Plaza building was the tallest in North Carolina. Rowan County is in the middle of the I-85 corridor that stretches 250 miles from Raleigh-Durham to Greenville, South Carolina. Yet, it is the only county in the region to lose population over the past several years. That’s not because of taxes. It’s because of the lack of both opportunity and leadership concerned with the whole rather than the parts.
Rowan commissioners believe that taxes, and only taxes, drive all business decisions. Our airport tax is already the lowest in the region. How will reducing it further attract more business?
Salisbury is critical to Rowan County. It provides a disproportionate share of the county’s tax base and is the engine for virtually all of the county’s economic growth. Yet, the county apparently wants nothing to do with the city. Most people in Rowan County have heard of Burlington, Cary, Wilmington, Asheville and Monroe, but how many can identify the county where those cities are located and name two other towns in those counties?
Salisbury-Rowan has several highly competent economic leaders in Robert Van Geons, James Meacham, and Randy Hemann, who head RowanWorks Economic Development Commission, the Tourism Development Authority and Downtown Salisbury, Inc. Have their voices been heard? Hardly. In fact, Mr. Hemann is often demonized for his efforts to reinvigorate Salisbury’s core.
The local hostility is like a loud divorce where the judge separates the property but requires the parties to remain married. Maybe a divorce is the solution. De-annex Salisbury from the county. Salisbury could become the state’s 101st county, a donut hole, somewhat like Lesoto, an independent nation surrounded on all borders by South Africa.
Tweny-five years ago, my family closed its business, Zimmerman’s. Twelve years ago, I moved my company from Washington, D.C., to Salisbury, not because of taxes, but because my brother, Jon Post, and a friend, Joe Hager, were willing to take a chance with me. Regulatory tripwires made both more difficult than necessary (but that’s another story).
Our company’s success has put us on Inc. Magazine’s list of the fastest growing companies in the United States for the past six years. As a result, a few dozen investors and banks have called. Since we operate in a number of states, they always ask, “Why Salisbury?” I say that we are a half-day drive to D.C. and Atlanta, that within a 50- and 100-mile radius around Salisbury is the largest population mass between Washington and Atlanta, and that the costs of living and doing business are low. They are usually impressed.
Instead, suppose I refer them to the comments at the beginning of this article and say, “What do you think?”
What would they think?
David Post lives in Salisbury and serves on the city Planning Board. Contact him via email: DavidPostOpinion@gmail.com.