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EDC pitches retail recruiter to City Council

By Emily Ford
eford@salisburypost.com
SALISBURY — Rowan County needs more retail, and Salisbury isn’t the only one asking for it.
Robert Van Geons, executive director for RowanWorks Economic Development Commission, pitched a new full-time retail recruiter to the Salisbury City Council Tuesday as part of an expanded marketing effort for the coming year.
The new employee would recruit retail, service and hospitality businesses to Salisbury and throughout Rowan County, where Van Geons said many towns have asked the EDC to help bring in similar companies.
To help pay for the position, RowanWorks is asking all funding partners — the county and 10 municipalities — to restore some of the EDC’s voluntary 10 percent budget cut taken this year.
Van Geons asked the city, the EDC’s second largest funding source behind the county, for $67,856, or about $5,300 more than this year. City Council took no action.
Mayor Paul Woodson thanked RowanWorks for proposing solutions to several needs the city identified during a recent retreat, including a retail recruiter, more promotion of Fibrant and a business incubator for start-ups.
“We appreciate you taking the initiative and stepping up,” Woodson said.
Since 2004, Salisbury’s tax base has grown 22 percent, but the EDC’s budget request is 2.4 percent less than in 2010-2011, Van Geons said.
RowanWorks plans to obtain 26 percent of its proposed budget — $67,000, up from $25,000 this year — from outside sources. The EDC also plans to spend nearly all of its remaining unrestricted fund balance, $74,971.
Van Geons characterized his budget for the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1, as an aggressive program of work. Adding a marketing manager-retail recruiter would enhance other EDC services and allow three current full-time employees to focus more intently on existing industry support, winning grants and site identification and development, he said.
Van Geons said he sees mild but sustained positive signs in the local economy. Although the unemployment rate has gone up, more people are actually employed in Rowan County — 62,086 — than at any time since April 2009.
The EDC budget funds several marketing initiatives, including touting the Rowan County Airport, Summit Corporate Center and existing industries. Van Geons plans to dedicate $10,000 for luring high-tech companies, including pitching Fibrant, the city’s new high-speed broadband utility.
“We’ve believed in the potential of Fibrant since the first time we started talking to companies,” he said.
Adding a fourth employee would make the EDC’s services more well-rounded and comprehensive, Van Geons said. While RowanWorks already calls a retailer or hotel to chase a lead, a new employee would take the ad hoc process and make it dedicated, he said.
Van Geons said salary for the new job would range from $32,000 to $45,000. Adding the position will depend on funding from Rowan County, Salisbury and the towns, he said.
“To maintain our level of services and add this position, we do need all the funds we are requesting,” he said. “Without that, this position isn’t feasible.”
Even without an additional employee, the EDC would be asking funding partners to restore some of the 10 percent cut taken this year, Van Geons said.
“We are operating in a budget deficit as it is,” he said.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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