Elizabeth Cook: Edds aims for Rowan to prosper

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 21, 2014

“He is certainly not a good citizen who does not wish to promote by every means in his power, the welfare of the whole society of his fellow-citizens.”

— Adam Smith

The Theory of Moral Sentiments

Greg Edds, new chairman of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners, came by the Post last Wednesday. At our request, he met with the editorial board to share his vision for Rowan County.

It was an intriguing discussion. Edds was not much interested in the issues that have bogged down local government recently — siting of the school central office, debating the purchase of the mall. Those issues are specks in the rearview mirror to someone who looks down the road the way Edds does.

He’s more interested in addressing underlying economic issues, and his first priority is bringing in more industry to boost the tax base.

Rowan needs a lot of things — more support for schools, airport improvements, etc. — but little can happen until the county gets more revenue coming in. Rather than raise the property tax rate, Edds and others want to see a bigger tax base.

Rowan has gone back and forth through the years about which is more important to recruit — jobs or tax base. Well before the recession, then-County Manager Tim Russell advocated growing the economy with capital-intensive industries that didn’t require much manpower.

Russell said an influx of new residents would put pressure on schools, roads, law enforcement and other county services. If families coming into the county built homes whose value was below a fairly high threshhold, they cost the county more in services than they paid in property taxes.

The $250 million CP&L power plant that located here in 1999 fit the bill; the project gave the county a big boost.

After the recession hit, Rowan leaders still wanted to build the tax base, but they needed to throw a lifeline to the unemployed. Jobs were the more immediate need and became a higher priority.

Rowan is finally back to pre-recession employment numbers —5.6 percent jobless, with 64,100 people working. Not as many of those jobs are in manufacturing as in decades past, though, so underemployment is the problem now.

During one of the candidate forums in the fall, Edds said that just electing three new commissioners would not solve all of Rowan County’s problems.

People were looking to the election as a turning point, but he warned that there would be a lot of work to do once the election was over.

Edds often mentions a book he says he’s reading for the seventh time, “Grassroots Leaders for a New Economy,” which came out in 1997. The publishing date may seem old, considering how quickly things change, but the book’s subtitle addresses a very current concern: “How Civic Entrepreneurs Are Building Prosperous Communities.”

That’s where the Adam Smith quote at the beginning of this column came from. I ordered “Grassroots Leaders” after Edds mentioned the book at a county commission meeting. That quote is about as far as I’ve gotten.

But it’s already clear — as it was in the forum — that Edds does his homework. He is a big thinker who has put a great deal of thought and research into Rowan’s situation and how other communities have successfully pulled themselves up. 

Going to battle with City Council or the Board of Education is not the path to prosperity. Edds has set up a time and place where a few members of all those boards — but less than a quorum — can get together for breakfast on a regular basis. If you sit down and break bread together, he says, it’s harder to look at each other as enemies.

Under Edds’ leadership, in 2015 the Board of Commissioners will hold its first planning retreat in five years to map out a vision for the county.

As Edds said at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast last week, “It is a new day in Rowan County.”

Indeed it is.

Elizabeth Cook is editor of the Salisbury Post.