Editorial: 2006 — a year in transition

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 7, 2007

Rowan County has been in transition for several years now. Starting with the closing of Cone Mills’ Salisbury plant in late 1999, the region’s reliance on the textile industry for jobs has come to a close. The big question since then has been “What next?” In 2006, the answer began to take physical shape.

First of all — and never to be taken for granted — Food Lion announced the $35 million expansion of its headquarters in Salisbury. The company that Ralph Ketner, Brown Ketner and Wilson Smith started here in 1957 may be part of a Belgian company now, but its presence in Salisbury is still large — 2,600 employees live and work in Rowan — and growing. “This is a clear indication of Food Lion’s continued commitment to this community,” said Glenn Dixon, senior VP of corporate development. That’s reassuring.

The blow of GDX’s closing at the beginning of the year was softened several months later when PGT Industries, maker of hurricane-resistant doors and windows, announced it would move its Lexington operations and 380 employees to the former GDX plant on Heilig Road. As many as 700 jobs could be added over five years, state officials have said.

And more good news appears to be in the offing. Economic development officials have worked virtually all year on a deal for Toyota to build a $22 million race production center on Peach Orchard Road. It’s not final yet, but all signs look promising, and that initial investment could be just the beginning. If Toyota officials have any doubt about being wanted here, let’s reassure them right now. The people of Rowan would welcome the presence of such a successful, high-caliber company.

The transition of the local economy was most evident in Kannapolis, where the N.C. Research Campus rises from Pillowtex’s ashes. David Murdock dreamed of a biotechnology center in Kannapolis, and in 2006 it started becoming a reality. Down came Cannon Mills’ old Plant 1, but not without a fight. The Cannons built this hard-to-demolish brick fortress, so that’s the way it should be remembered, as Cannon Mills. Pillowtex was just a bit player at the end, the company that failed and put thousands of people out of work. Murdock, on the other hand, wasn’t just passing through when he bought and then sold the company several years ago. His commitment to rebuilding Kannapolis is much greater than anyone could have expected. The Research Campus will attract many more jobs than Pillowtex lost.

A community’s success is measured by much more than plant openings and the unemployment rate, but it’s mighty hard to succeed without good jobs and the benefits that go with them. “We’re getting ready to bust wide open,” Randy Harrell, director of the Economic Development Commission, told Spencer officials in August. Local businesses and leaders have been waiting for that to happen for years. Here comes the rising tide. Get your boat ready.