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My Turn: School office site will affect growth, education

By Steve Blount

County commissioners are tasked with working for the good of all of their citizens living throughout Rowan County without showing preference for any particular group or location. Some see locating the new school office building in Salisbury as favoritism. Luckily, the location of the school system’s much needed office building falls into a very different category, that being economic development.
Hopefully, we all can agree that anything that helps bring new jobs and tax base to our county is a good thing, and I believe the downtown Salisbury site is just that thing.
You learn in Economic Development 101 that we are competing in a world economy now and not just against our sister counties in North Carolina or the Southern United States. A company looking to locate to any particular community in the world needs to have a “face” in mind when the company considers that community, and the face of Rowan County — like it or not, commissioners — is the city of Salisbury.
Salisbury has done wonderful things in its downtown, but what it needs to rise to the next level is more people. The school system’s new office will bring not only its full-time staff every day, and its many teachers and school administrators on various days, but many out-of-town visitors and vendors into the largest commercial area in our county. More people means more stores and restaurants, and of critical importance to all of those living outside of this city, a better economic development face for our whole county.
Just as important in the new world economy is our community’s perceived valuation of our local education system. While we have some bright and shining lights of accomplishment in our school system, its central office is certainly not something you would want to show visiting economic development site consultants.
Decades ago, after the city and county school systems merged, a new office was promised. Through those years lots of reasons have been given why a new building couldn’t be provided, and several less than stellar options have been offered, including a wornout Social Services building, a too small grocery store and now a second-hand church. Is this really the best our community can do?
Arguments against locating this important building in Salisbury have approached a high level of silliness. Build it where the county already owns land, some said, but Salisbury’s offer of free land negates that argument. Lack of parking as an argument only makes sense if the building weren’t going to have its very own dedicated parking lot. And arguing that it will be hard to drive to because it’s downtown instead of out on a less traveled country road? Please!
If building in downtown Salisbury were going to cost a great deal more than building an equivalent structure — and I stress the word equivalent — in some other part of Rowan County, then there would be good reason to consider that option. If the costs are anywhere close to the same, though, the only logical place for this new building is where it can accomplish multiple goals like maintaining a vibrant county seat and economic development, and that location is downtown Salisbury.
It’s hard to understand the level of longstanding animosity some commissioners hold toward Salisbury’s leadership and apparently their own 25,000 Rowan County citizens living in this city, but certainly we all can agree that positive efforts for economic development trump any amount of cutting off noses to spite faces.

Steve Blount lives in Spencer and is a former member of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners.

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