Rowan’s tipping point

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 9, 2014

Some people worry about the future and fret about what might happen. Others dream about the future and what could happen. A substantial number of Rowan Countians are ready to stop just worrying and dreaming. They’re ready to make something happen.
For that you can credit in part the forum held in Salisbury last Thursday, “Building Successful Communities.” The keynote speaker was Ed McMahon, a land use planner and senior resident fellow at the Urban Land Institute in Washington, D.C. He’s a wry, engaging speaker. But the real star of the show was the collection of “before” and “after” photos McMahon shared from neighborhoods across the country — showing dreary, seemingly doomed areas that found new life through innovation and investment.
The message was clear to those who worry that Rowan may be in decline. The power to change that perception is in our hands.
Catawba President Brien Lewis followed, as a relative newcomer to Rowan County, with his own pep talk about the potential and charm he sees here. Lewis has intriguing ideas about raising Salisbury’s visibility as a college town — we have four — starting with a downtown presence for Catawba. Already he has people thinking differently about the college-community connection.
And in the evening, Pete Teague spoke as chairman of the RowanWorks board, issuing a call to action. The day had created a lot of buzz about developing a common vision for Rowan County. Teague encouraged the group to keep it up, to persevere and pull together. “Don’t let our differences divide us,” he said. “Try to forge a better Rowan County.”
Kudos to the Gateway Partners for pulling together this event. That includes the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce, RowanWorks Economic Development and the Salisbury-Rowan County Convention and Visitors Bureau. A lot of work went into organizing the forum and transforming the F&M Trolley Barn into a lecture hall. The greatest credit must go to Paul Fisher, chairman and CEO of F&M Financial Services. As someone with a stake in Rowan County’s future, Fisher has been pushing local leaders for years to take a more active role in shaping the county’s future. He has led by example with F&M’s downtown investments. The forum would not have taken place without his leadership.
McMahon said he sensed that Rowan County is at a tipping point, and indeed we are. Business and education leaders are loading on the ideas, hoping to tip the local scene toward an optimistic, innovative outlook. If they succeed, Rowan County will succeed.