New path toward jobs?

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 26, 2014

Jobs, jobs, jobs. North Carolina wants more of them, and few counties face as great a need as Rowan. Will a 10-year jobs plan unveiled Friday in Raleigh help recruit jobs to communities like Salisbury-Rowan that lie beyond the state’s bustling metropolitan areas?
It will take time — and a lot more details — to give the McCrory administration’s new plan the thorough analysis it deserves. But the fact that the N.C. Economic Development Board has put together a cohesive plan is encouraging.
One passage in the board’s report accurately reflects the challenges faced by communities like ours — the factors driving companies to big cities:
“The place-based asset demands for many companies and their workers today include air flights, high-speed broadband, access to advanced training and talent, and top-quality health care. Smaller communities and micropolitan regions, especially those heavily dependent on declining traditional industries, are struggling.”
And how.
Encouragingly, the economic plan released Friday includes tools to help smaller communities take part in the coming prosperity:
• A Seed Capital Fund model to provide loans for the development of business facility sites. (Could Rowan get a much-needed spec building that way?)
• Realignment of the state’s Community Development Block Grant programs with the state’s other grant programs.
• A new demand-driven model for historic rehabilitation tax credits — popular in Salisbury — that focuses on positive returns on investment for the state. (Set to expire at the end of this year, the credits that encourage preservation may get a second life.)
• Public investment in and encouragement for local and private investment in the arts; museums; symphonies; historic downtowns, neighborhoods and sites; libraries; parks; green spaces; public spaces; clean air; clean water; the environment; adequate transportation; and diversity. (This sounds like input from former Salisbury Mayor Susan Kluttz, now secretary of the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources.)
The state would be divided into 10 “prosperity zones, ” with Rowan logically placed in the Southwest Zone with Mecklenburg, Cabarrus, Stanly, Union, Anson, Gaston, Lincoln, Cleveland and Iredell counties.
This is one small part of a 26-page plan that needs to be fleshed out and win legislative support. It’s far from a done deal. But the plan gives strong direction to North Carolina’s economic development efforts — direction we’ve been needing for a long time.