Frank exchanges flow between commissioners, chamber members

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Jessie Burchette

Salisbury Post

The chairman of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners vowed Tuesday to stir things up and take a fresh approach to how the county does business.

“There is stagnancy to some of the things in the county,” said Arnold Chamberlain during a meeting of the Board of Commissioners and members of the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce.

Commissioners and the chamber members exchanged views on incentives, land-use planning and economic development Tuesday afternoon.

The meeting, requested by the Chamber’s Task Force on Progress, prompted some frank exchanges between the groups on some issues including strategic planning.

Chamber members spoke in favor of sticking with the existing Strategic Planning Commission created nearly a decade ago by commissioners.

Chamberlain said the county’s planning will be done under a different banner, using a panel with fresh appointments and fresh blood. He added that some of the chamber members may be included.

Commissioner Jon Barber defended the Strategic Planning Commission and the Sustainable Community Development Commission. Barber said both groups should be applauded for their work and their efforts. “They haven’t been given clear directions on what we want,” said Barber.

Pete Teague, chairman of the Task Force on Progress, gave the Board of Commissioners high marks for progress on several fronts including an incentive policy, support of the Rowan-Salisbury Economic Development Commission, workforce development and improvements to infrastructure, specifically the Town Creek sewer line to serve the I-85 corridor.

But Teague noted the board hasn’t moved forward on land use planning. “Something appropriate needs to happen. Doing nothing is not going to solve the problem,” Teague said, adding that the chamber is also very concerned about individual property rights.

“Look for some land-use planning to resume,” said Chamberlain. “It will not be the Urban Institute plan. It won’t resemble it.”

Much of the nearly hour-long meeting dealt with economic development and a broad discussion of the roles of the various groups or agencies involved including the Economic Development Commission, Rowan Jobs Initiative and the chamber.

Teague presented an outline of his view on how the agencies should work in a supporting manner.

Chamberlain suggested the chamber would be better off meeting with the EDC board than with commissioners. “I am aware of the tension between the chamber and the EDC,” Chamberlain said, adding, “Everyone is aware.”

Looking around the table at the chamber members, Chamberlain said he’s heard that some of the chamber members laugh at the Board of Commissioners. “We’re here … you have to put up with us until somebody else is elected.”

Commissioner Tina Hall questioned what tweaking the chamber would like to see.

Bob Wright, chamber president, said while the organization has no official position, many businesses would like to see the $5 million investment threshold lowered. That way more local businesses could benefit.

Commissioners said they will take an in depth look at the existing incentive policy during the upcoming retreat. Chamberlain said the focus will be on creating jobs for local people.

Among new elements, the board will look at creating some type of low-interest loans to create jobs.

Vice Chairman Chad Mitchell took a philosophical view of the span of issues.

Mitchell said as elections are held every two years, the board will change, and the views will change. He predicted the county incentive policy and other policies will undergo change.

Commissioner Jim Sides remained silent through the meeting, waiting until the end to weigh in on the various issues.

“If I had three votes there would be no EDC,” said Sides, “I don’t like having a $100,000 employee that doesn’t report to us. There is no accountability.”

Sides said he wants to see major changes in the incentive policy that ties incentives to creating jobs for local people.

Responding to comments of chamber members about plans for the county-owned airport, Sides said the airport is the best economic development tool the county has. The airport draws far more interest then the county-owned industrial park, Summit Corporate Center.

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