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Board proposes I-85 alliance to bring jobs, investment

SALISBURY — Calling Interstate 85 one of the greatest economic assets in Rowan County, the Salisbury Planning Board has proposed a new initiative to take advantage of the highway’s increasing importance in the region.
“It seems as if it’s almost hidden in plain sight,” board member Bill Wagoner told City Council Tuesday. “That great hulking fiscal asset that we all call I-85.”
The Planning Board has worked for two years on an I-85 corridor study, which details everything from sewer lines to vacant land ready for economic development. The interstate stretches for 20 miles through Rowan from Cabarrus to Davidson counties.
“We are proposing something that has never been done in this community,” Wagoner said.
The Planning Board invited Salisbury to become the first member of a county-wide initiative that would encourage and support economic development and job growth opportunities along the entire Rowan I-85 corridor.
For years, Rowan has experienced slower growth and less capital investment than its neighbors, Wagoner said.
“We have had to resort to the incentive game,” he said.
Many in Salisbury and Rowan County fail to see beyond the community’s borders, and few are willing to make major investments, he said.
“We have seen a dearth, not an absence but a dearth, of risk-takers,” Wagoner said.
The new cooperative alliance, which could include two appointments each from Salisbury, Rowan and other communities along the interstate, would determine how to best take advantage of I-85. The group would seek expertise as needed from people who specialize in land use planning, utilities and other areas, Wagoner said.
Because many issues facing the region, such as flood plains and air quality, have no borders, it will take a group that crosses jurisdictions to tackle the problems, Planning Board Chairman Carl Repsher said.
The Planning Board would hand off control to the alliance, which would not be “owned” by any one local government, Wagoner said.
Demographic experts have determined eight “megaregions” that will be the centers of economic activity and population growth in the U.S. for the next 40 years, Wagoner said. Rowan County is in the heart of the Piedmont Atlantic megaregion.
Rowan is within 20 miles of 160,000 workers and within 50 miles of three million workers, Wagoner said.
“That’s all within a commute drive time,” he said.
The alliance would aim for “high-capital” investment, or above-average-wage job creation.
Wagoner and Repsher asked the city to join the partnership and appoint thought-provoking, action-oriented, community-minded strategic thinkers who see beyond borders and will work to make Rowan County a model for capital intensive growth and job creation.
Council members voted unanimously to join the multi-jurisdictional initiative and will consider adopting a formal resolution of intent at their next meeting.
Councilman Brian Miller said he wants to hear more details before appointing delegates, and Councilwoman Karen Alexander suggested the Planning Board pitch the idea to the Cabarrus Rowan Metropolitan Planning Organization as well.

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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