Kannapolis faces economic challenges
By Emily Ford
KANNAPOLIS ó With unemployment reaching post-Pillowtex levels and a poorly educated workforce, Kannapolis faces several economic development challenges in the coming year.
City leaders discussed the challenges and possible solutions at a recent long-range planning retreat.
During the recession, the city’s unemployment rate has reached 11.8 percent, about the same as it was in 2003 after Pillowtex closed and thousands lost their jobs, city staff told Kannapolis City Council members during the retreat.
Many people in Kannapolis struggle because they don’t have adequate education. Fourteen percent of citizens have a college degree.
About a third of citizens have only a high school diploma, and nearly a quarter of the population doesn’t have even that.
The recession has slowed development at the N.C. Research Campus, a $1.5 billion life sciences complex, as well as at mixed-use developments like Kellswater and Concrescere, City Manager Mike Legg said.
The city lacks a large, private-sector employer like Pillowtex, Legg said. While the city is still selling new business licenses, small retailers and service provides don’t generate many jobs.
Kannapolis faces the upcoming challenge of redeveloping unattractive corridors, including N.C. Highway 29, Main Street and Lane Street, staff told council.
These gateways to the city need higher development value, business and community affairs director Irene Sacks said.
In addition to developing corridors, the city needs to develop a better educated workforce, Sacks said. But attracting professionals depends on improving quality of life issues around the city, she said.
Council members considered a variety of quality of life issues during the retreat, including curbside recycling, parks and sidewalks, beautification and city festivals.
They did hear some good economic news.
Property values in Kannapolis have increased by $1.5 billion in the past five years. While the Research Campus is responsible for 20 percent of that increase, other new development represents a larger piece of the pie at 35 percent.
Revaluation in Cabarrus County increased property values by 45 percent.
“Our downtown property values with the NCRC are unparalleled for a city our size,” Legg said. “They are eight times the Concord downtown values.”
As potential economic development tools and strategies, council considered:
– A facade improvement grant program.
– Municipal service districts that would levy a tax in a certain area to generate revenue for marketing and promotion. Possible locations include downtown, Midway, South Main Street and Cannon Boulevard.
It’s possible for a municipal service district to generate up to $250,000, Sacks said.
Council member Randy Cauthen, whose business is located in a municipal service district in Concord, spoke out against the idea.
Cauthen said he hasn’t seen much benefit from the designation and opposes more taxes on business owners.
– Creating a strategic plan for Kannapolis Parkway.
– Recruiting “human capital” by improving the quality of life.
– A business incubator to help launch small biotech start-up companies, possibly partnering with Rowan-Cabarrus Community College and some of the universities at the Research Campus.
– Increasing tourism.
During the two-day retreat, 10 city staffers made a dozen presentations.
Legg said he will meet with council members individually to hear their ideas and priorities. After the holidays, Legg will present to council a summary and recommendations based on the retreat.