Greg Edds: We’ve got to become the best

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 7, 2014

Greg Edds, newly elected chairman of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners, gave these comments at his first commission meeting Monday:

Thank you once again to the citizens of Rowan County for the confidence you have placed in this board of five unique individuals to lead Rowan County for the next few years.

Congratulations to Commissioners Greene and Klusman on your elections. I am honored to be serving with you both and look forward to our time together over the next four years.

Thank you to Commissioners Pierce and Caskey for your welcoming hospitality and kind words of encouragement over the past few weeks. Your experience, wisdom and insight are needed and welcomed and will be vital as we all seek to move our county forward.

A special thank you to County Manager Aaron Church and the wisdom and instruction you have already provided to us. Thank you to Carolyn Barger (clerk to the board) for taking care of the rookies over the past few weeks. We expect you to start blocking our phone calls within the next week or two. Thank you to our county attorney, Jay Dees, for the time he has already given us. We’re paying you by the hour, so we would suggest you keep taking our calls.

And a special thank you to our families. My wife, Kim, my daughters, Taylor and Lauren, and my son, Brandon. My father-in-law and mother-in-law, David and Peggy Norris. My pastor, Dr. Kenneth Lance from First Baptist Church of Salisbury, and my best friend whom I grew up with in Florida and was best man in my wedding 26 years ago, Mark Petty.

To the families of Commissioners Pierce, Caskey, Greene and Klusman, thank you for the sacrifices you make to allow each of these elected officials to serve. You deserve a tremendous amount of credit and gratitude.

Over the past few weeks, Commissioners Greene and Klusman and I have had a little time to recover from the elections, but then our focus has quickly shifted to addressing those issues that the citizens have clearly indicated are most important to them.

They are jobs, our economy, schools, poverty and our infrastructure.

In one of the primary election debates, I said that I believed Dr. Lynn Moody and EDC Director Robert Van Geons would be the two most important leaders in our community over the next few years. I still believe that to be true today.

The Rowan-Salisbury School system can no longer be viewed as being “just where our kids receive a K through 12 education.” It must be seen as an integral piece of our economic improvement and industrial recruitment strategy. Recently, site selection consultants told us that if we want a better shot at better jobs, we have to have better schools. Dr. Moody and her team are aggressively attacking our current problems and working to radically improve student performance. This board is committed to partnering with Dr. Moody and our schools because we know that without a strong education system, we will continue to struggle economically.

EDC Director Robert Van Geons is our county’s sales representative to the world. Mr. Van Geons, you will have a pro-growth, pro-business Board of Commissioners who will support you in your critical role of bringing new employers to our community and expanded opportunity for our citizens. We will respectfully welcome your prospects to these chambers and work to make your job easier and more fruitful by offering the “red-carpet treatment” to those who are interested in investing in our community and providing our citizens with quality jobs.

We have been working with Mr. Van Geons on new, more targeted, aggressive recruiting strategies that take into account those assets that make Rowan County a destination for existing and emerging jobs and industry. Our geography, interstate access,  natural resources, colleges, quality of life and our people are assets that we need to aggressively highlight. These advantages we enjoy make several different job sectors a natural fit for a modern recruiting strategy, and by organizing our county, our municipalities, our educational offerings and our regulatory environment around these sectors, we should see Rowan County at the top of the list of any company looking to expand or relocate.

A book on economic development that I recently read said, “If you want to have a great economy, you’ve got to be a great community.” And while we have a lot to be proud of, every county and municipal department that touches economic development has got to be the best. We can no longer adopt the belief that our departments are, by definition, government departments and, therefore, free from competition. The opposite is true. Communities that border Rowan County, counties all across the state of North Carolina and communities up and down the East Coast fully understand that in order to compete in the recruiting wars, their local departments have to compete just like the private sector competes every day — for their very life.

Recently, a site selection firm told Rowan County that businesses look for two huge things when deciding where to locate. The first is speed, meaning speed of service, because to them time is money, and with big businesses, time is big money. Secondly, they said that while companies don’t expect communities to remove all risk from investing in a community, those communities who can remove the most risk and eliminate the most uncertainty, companies are naturally drawn to them. Rowan County has gotten better lately, but we have got to become the very best.

We have a lot of challenges facing us. Schools, teacher and county employee turnover, infrastructure needs, poverty … the list goes on. As commissioners, we are tasked with prioritizing our needs within a limited budget while trying to keep taxes as low as possible for our citizens and our tax rate competitive in our region.

The fact is, we simply cannot raise taxes to the level that would be necessary to pay for those things that we all value. Currently, Rowan County has the second lowest revenue, per citizen, of any county in our region. To be clear, this is not a call for higher taxes. This is a call for us to figure out how other communities are growing economically. Just to our south, Cabarrus County has revenues that are almost $100 million dollars higher than ours. Now, I know we’re not Cabarrus County, but they’re not $100 million better than us. They are figuring out the industrial recruiting piece, and that’s where we’ve got to get better.

This is why you will find a significant, relentless effort on the part of this board to not only recruit harder, smarter and more aggressively, but we will also be addressing those structural issues that will truly make us more competitive in our region and across the country.

And, lastly, we are committed to treating you, the citizens, with respect. We are committed to treating every municipality with respect. We are committed to building up and improving the economic prospects of every single municipality in our county. By default, that means we have no interest in tearing any municipality down. The fact is, if one of our communities falls behind, our county suffers and will never reach its full potential.

We are committed to working together respectfully with our partners in the school system and on the school board. We understand the natural rub between schools and their funding source in the county. It is a designed tug-of-war that is experienced all across the country, and we’re no different. But a little respect from each board and the challenges that the other board faces will go a long way toward resolving unnecessary and unproductive conflicts.

Here’s a shocker: There will be disagreements — between municipalities and the county, between the county and the schools and, yes, possibly even between commissioners. You know what? That’s OK. But let’s do it with respect and recognize that none of us has an easy job and that tough decisions are tough for a reason.

We have much to do. As a group, our primary goal is to make decisions that are in the best interest of the entire county. We will make mistakes, I promise you that. And as good as our intentions are, we are each going to say something stupid from time to time. Please accept our apologies ahead of time and our commitment to do better and represent you well.

We ask for your prayers over the coming years, that we will be showered with wisdom, patience, perseverance and grace. We are humbled that you have placed us in such an honored position at such a critical time in our county’s history. We promise to treat it with the reverence it deserves. Thank you.