By Mark Wineka
Rowan County economic development officials said Wednesday their top priority has to be communications.
During a half-day retreat, held at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, the Salisbury-Rowan Economic Development Commission members said they have to do a better job communicating with everyone.
That includes their municipal and county funding partners, schools, the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce, the North Carolina Research Campus, the Rowan Jobs Initiative and existing industries.
The development board’s communication with these groups should get to the point “where they don’t want to hear from us anymore,” said Chairman Bruce Jones.
“I already see a great start,” he added.
Development board members are encouraged by all the contacts made by recently hired Executive Director Robert Van Geons and how much he has tried to involve county and municipal leaders and development board members themselves.
Arnold Chamberlain, chairman of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners, said he sees the Economic Development Commission doing more work than ever. He has seen more communications from the board in the past few months than he had seen in all the years since 1998, Chamberlain said.
His advice: “Don’t act like elitists.”
As the retreat wound up Wednesday, Van Geons went around the room asking retreat participants their top priority for the next fiscal year. Most mentioned communications.
Several members, such as Catawba College’s Phil Kirk, also stressed the importance of board members’ becoming active in industrial recruitment beyond just attending monthly meetings.
Rowan-Cabarrus Community College’s Jeanie Moore said economic development has to become the responsibility of the whole community. The development agency should seek more engagement from its funding partners, the Chamber of Commerce, educators and the general public ó and that will have to start with the appointment of four new board members this summer, she said. Jones, Bill Wagoner, Jack Owens and Rick Hudson will have to be replaced.
Rowan County Commissioner Tina Hall took the advice of Kenny McDonald, senior vice president of the Charlotte Regional Partnership, to heart.
McDonald spoke at the retreat earlier in the day and emphasized that counties, looking for an edge in industrial recruitment, had to find a way to separate themselves from their competitors.
Having a state-certified industrial site on Peach Orchard Road ó which meant many questions about price, services and environmental concerns were already answered ó was important in landing Toyota Racing Development, McDonald said.
The only state-certified site Rowan now has is the county-owned Summit Corporate Center, Hall noted.
“We’ve got to do a better job on certification,” she said.
Van Geons agreed, but he suggested answering key price and environmental questions on up to eight sites rather than trying to focus all the development board’s efforts at state certification of one parcel.
Kirk said Rowan County could unknowingly be penalizing itself by not being able to say it had more than one state-certified site.
Hall, Chamberlain and development board members liked the idea of labeling each site within Summit Corporate Center as state-certified to give the county a higher number.
Board member Bill Wagoner said pressure is building on taxpayers because Rowan County increasingly risks becoming another bedroom community to Charlotte.
Rowan needs to have a strong infrastructure strategy so that industrial park land along Interstate 85 and between Old Concord Road and U.S. 29 can be expanded while it’s available, he said.
“We’re losing these properties next to our main corridor,” Wagoner warned.
He suggested finding a way to connect the Rowan-Cabarrus Community College campus with Toyota Racing Development, starting with the Summit Corporate Center. If the county doesn’t have that kind of strategy soon, taxes will skyrocket, Wagoner predicted.
Rowan County Chamber of Commerce President Bob Wright told development board members they have a potentially strong ally in the Chamber.
He can offer his staff and chamber membership of 1,000 on short notice to help the development board. The Chamber wants the Economic Development Commission to succeed, he emphasized.
“The Chamber has opened that door,” an appreciative Van Geons said, “and we have taken advantage of that.”
Stuart Hair, project manager for the Economic Development Commission, said his priority is landing a new industry at Summit Corporate Center this year.
The development board will make a formal presentation April 7 to county commissioners, asking permission to market Summit Corporate Center during the next two years. Van Geons laid out a two-year, $60,000 budget for that effort.
The development agency also wants to talk with county officials about maintenance of Summit, including mowing, landscaping and trash cleanup.
Board member Harold Earnhardt said his priority is simply the agency’s mission overall: bring good-paying jobs to Rowan County and increase its tax base.
“That is our goal,” Van Geons said.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263 or email@example.com.
By Mark Wineka