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Editorial: eXtremely disappointing

People in Rowan County who have lost their homes to foreclosure or been denied a loan have painful firsthand knowledge of the credit and banking turmoil that has engulfed this country and a large section of the globe. Local economic development officials felt the sting, too, with the news that a $60 million-plus wind tunnel project is now indefinitely on hold.
We can take some comfort in the fact that Toyota Racing Development’s chassis engineering shop is nearing completion. In addition to the investment it represents, TRD’s presence is likely to attract other race-related enterprises and raise Rowan’s profile in well-heeled racing circles. It’s still a blow, however, to lose the Wind Tunnel eXtreme project, which had spurred hopes of other businesses following quickly in TRD’s slipstream. That hope still lives ó others are looking at the site, officials say ó but it’s tempered by the knowledge that local plans are inevitably held hostage to the larger economy.
Wind Tunnel eXtreme had been lauded by the governor, feted with the promise of local as well as state incentives and envisioned an important part of Rowan’s fledgling racing nexus, drawing clients from many different realms of motorsports. Yet, while it’s disappointing that the project was apparently unable to secure adequate financing, perhaps it shouldn’t be that surprising. Each day seems to bring new tremors in global credit and banking markets, and they aren’t limited to homeowners facing foreclosure. Consider what we’ve witnessed this week alone, with the government’s unprecedented actions to assure the liquidity of the mortgage mainstays Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and federal takeover of IndyMac Bank, one of the nation’s largest mortgage banks. The easy-credit pendulum has now swung back to the side of hyper caution and minimal risk.
Nor is the racing industry itself immune to a slowdown when the economy goes off track. Even before General Motors announced a $10 billion cost-cutting program, some NASCAR teams were already contending with declining sponsorship and rising expenses. Chip Gnassi Racing recently dropped one of its Sprint Cup teams for lack of a sponsor, and investors in Bruton Smith’s Speedway Motorsports have seen more than a third of their share price evaporate this year amid pessimistic estimates of future track revenues. And now, with the Belgian brewer InBev’s buyout of Budweiser, some financial analysts wonder whether the king of beer’s reign as a titan of sports advertising may be coming to an end, which would further reduce stock-car racing’s access to free-flowing sponsorship dollars.
Local development officials can’t control what happens in the credit and banking markets across the country or around the world. All they can do is continue to aggressively market Rowan to companies that can help build a diversified economy that doesn’t depend on any one particular industry, whether it’s racing or biotechnology. In this case, county officials identified a desirable business, negotiated a package of incentives and fulfilled their end of the deal. What happened after that takes the wind out of one particular project, but with Toyota Racing Development rapidly getting up to speed and Toyota’s NASCAR teams already winning races, good things lie ahead for the site off Peach Orchard Road.

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