Editorial: Idea worth incubating

  • Posted: Thursday, April 18, 2013 12:11 a.m.

Rowan County and the city of Salisbury appear to be joining forces on establishing a business incubator. After seeing one county-city disagreement dragged out before a legislative committee in Raleigh, this note of harmony comes as welcome news. Let’s hope it’s sincere and lasting.

The site under discussion is the former home of the Department of Social Services on West Innes Street. The agency outgrew the building several years ago. Rather than undertake an expensive expansion, the county moved DSS to a roomier building on East Innes. Now the county is offering it up for the incubator.

That sounds like an offer worth investigating. A spirit of entrepreneurship built much of this area’s wealth — from Stanback to Cheerwine and Food Lion — and local government has a strong interest in encouraging a revival. The shared resources of an incubator might help some industrious individuals get a good start on a new business.

This conversation needs to progress along two fronts. First, what form should the incubator take? What’s the best way to encourage new, small businesses? Everyone expects the local economic development commission, RowanWorks, to play a big role; what exactly will that be?

After city and county agree on those issues, then they need to tackle the second front: Can the former DSS building fit the function and is redeveloping the structure a good investment? It’s no secret the building contains asbestos tiles, a material that in some cases can be safe as long as the tiles are not disturbed. A feasibility study could look at those risks and other factors. The building’s old heating and air-conditioning systems also deserve a close look.

Already the ideas for the building are multiplying. Commission Chairman Jim Sides would like to see the Early College program at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College expanded; this building could figure into that somehow. Commission Vice Chair Craig Pierce suggested some city services could find room there too.

It would be good to see the elected leaders working together on this project. Staff can accomplish a lot, but the commissioners and council members themselves might build better relationships given the chance to rally around a common, positive goal.

Everyone involved needs to isolate this discussion from the county’s drive to de-annex the airport with a bill making its way through the General Assembly. It was not a proud moment for this area when our two highest local government leaders argued opposing points before a legislative committee recently. As Sen. Gene McLaurin, himself a former mayor, said during a Salisbury visit earlier this year, “Problems, opportunities and issues are best solved here, not in Raleigh.” Whichever way the de-annexation bill goes, both sides should remain committed to seeing the incubator project through in a spirit of collaboration and compromise.

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