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Editorial: A future of promise

In a report that begins in the Post today, experts on urban growth revisit the Charlotte region that they first studied in 1995. Remember what was going on in Rowan County ó on the fringe of the Charlotte “citistate” ó in 1995?
The giant Fieldcrest Cannon plant in Kannapolis faced a union election. Mayor Margaret Kluttz and the rest of City Council agreed not to annex the county’s new industrial park for 15 years, at the request of Todd Arey, chairman of the county commission. And the Piedmont Phillies played their first season at the new Fieldcrest Cannon Stadium.
“With the region growing as fast as it’s growing,” Arey said in a Post interview, “and that part of the county growing as fast as it’s growing, it’s inevitable that 10 years from now we’ll look like rocket scientists.”
Unfortunately, the rocket crashed. After accelerating skyward through much of the 1990s ó when growth really did seem inevitable ó the local economy lost speed at the end of the decade. Starting with the 1999 shutdown of the Salisbury Cone Mills plant and culminating with the 2003 closing of Pillowtex (formerly Fieldcrest Cannon), the textile industry collapsed. Other industries suffered, too, either selling out, slowing down or closing up operations here.
Still, the Charlotte metro area continued to grow, even faster than urban expert Neal Peirce predicted in 1995. So far, that growth has been slow to benefit the Rowan economy ó choked by construction on I-85, shaken by shifts in textiles and truck manufacturing. But the county is undeniably an integral part of the Charlotte region. And Rowan is in a better position now to be a part of the regional advancement the new Citistates Report envisions. The report may be the opinion of only one outside group, but it sets out goals that are hard to argue with ó Green, Great and Global.
The alternative might be Sooty, Mediocre and Insular, an option a few people might be willing to settle for. But even amid this economic stall, Rowan has made progress toward the kind of community the study talks about. The Catawba College Center for the Environment can take credit for the area’s growing environmental awareness, even before the rest of the country caught the green wave. The land-use plan being bantered around has the potential to prevent the sprawl this report and many others consider a risk (though the proposed plan appears unlikely to survive the political process). As for the greatness described in the report ó taking risks to develop vital city centers, building regional cohesion, expanding regional collaboration ó we’re on our way with efforts to enhance Salisbury and with Rowan’s membership in the Carolinas Partnership. But the inability of city and county to work well together shows a weakness in cohesion and collaboration. And on the global front, our ability to “welcome the world to your doorstep” is hampered by a provincial streak that can get ugly at times.
The current crisis in the financial markets may make all this moot ó or all the more important. If nothing else, “Green, Great and Global” should make Rowan take a look at itself as part of a region, not a world walled in by county lines and narrow attitudes.

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