Rowan County’s economy growing slowly as leaders look toward future

Published 12:05 am Sunday, June 21, 2015

By Josh Bergeron

Even as Rowan County’s leaders push for economic development at every turn, the area’s economy is already slowly growing, according to more than a decade of tax data.

Building inspections are up. The overall tax base is increasing. And, growth along the southern section of Salisbury bodes well for the future, county leaders say.

The most recent data suggests Rowan’s economy is growing at a little less than 1 percent. During the previous decade, however, the total property value in Rowan has grown by a few billion — from $9.3 billion in the 2005 fiscal year to a projected $11.7 billion in the 2016 fiscal year. Since the late 1990s, the tax base has grown by an even larger number.

County Manager Aaron Church said the total tax value of all property in Rowan County — referred to as the tax base — is partially a result of inflation. Inflation alone isn’t the only cause, Church said, as Rowan’s population has grown by several thousand since 2,000, according to Census data.

Similarly, Rowan County’s fiscal year 2016 budget — approved last week — is likely the largest ever, he said.

The rate of growth for Rowan isn’t as sharp as its southern neighbor — Cabarrus County — but it’s a growth rate that’s been called healthy and sustainable by Rowan County’s leaders.

Historical growth

With Rowan County sandwiched between the Charlotte Metropolitan Area and Piedmont triad, local and state leaders have long hoped growth would spread over the area’s southern border or trickle down from the North.

A portion of Rowan County’s growth is, surely, a result of its geographical location, said County Commission Chairman Greg Edds.

“Because of our geographical location, we really couldn’t help but grow to some extent,” Edds said. “It’s really heading in our direction from the South and North. Our challenge is to create a significant supply for the demand.”

Census data shows population growth rates are sharper outside of the Salisbury city limits. The most pronounced population increases are west of Salisbury, along Mooresville Road. Census data also shows growth in south Rowan.

Since a nationwide economic recession that occurred after 2008, industrial growth is also picking up, said Rowan Works Economic Development Director Robert Van Geons.

“In the last five to 10 years, we have seen a sustainable growth rate and a series of new investments,” Van Geons.

In the last 10 years, commercial and industrial tax base has, in fact, increased along with the combined value of all property, according to tax data. In 2005, tax data shows the combined value of all commercial and industrial property at about $2.39 billion. In 2014, commercial and industrial property rose to $2.8 billion.

Recent trends

A look at the most recent data results in a less optimistic outlook for Rowan County.

Every four years, staff in the Rowan County Tax Assessor’s office complete a revaluation of all property. This year’s revaluation resulted in the average value of property decreasing slightly — about 1 percent.

The growth rate cited by Church and other county officials — a 0.79 percent increase — refers to the tax base rather than tax value. Buildings, equipment and other structures are popping up in Rowan County at an increased rate rather than average values rising.

“It’s not about how much property is worth, but about how much property you have,” Church said. “If you’ve got 10 gold bars, add two more and the price of gold goes down, the average value is still still less. The total value is higher.”

Edds and Van Geons stress that some developments haven’t begun paying taxes on property yet as a result of recent construction. Both focus their attention on Summit Corporate Center on Julian Road.

Optimistic future

Neither Agility Fuel Systems nor a retail complex along Julian Road is completely finished with construction. As a result, property and sales tax can’t be measured.

Rowan County leaders say the two Julian Road developments could be the beginning of economic growth the area hasn’t experienced previously.

“Nothing breeds success like success, and nothing generates more interest than closing deals,” Van Geons said. “As long as we have the capacity and infrastructure in place to take advantage of that continued interest, then we will see continued growth.”

Another significant economic development in recent months is an aircraft charter company — Strategic Moves LLC — moving from Statesville to the Rowan County Airport. The company plans to lease the airport’s largest hangar and build office space adjacent to the facility.

Shortly after the announcement, the Rowan County airport’s board voted to build an identical hangar with a slightly smaller office space.

Referencing both private and public conversations, Edds said he’s seen increased economic interest in Rowan County.

“There is a marked and significant interest in Rowan County, and we see that continuing,” he said. “And, in order to keep up with demand, you have to keep expanding your supply.”

He referenced new residential and commercial properties as future possibilities, which would increase Rowan County’s tax base further.

Edds said he’s often questioned about the number of jobs brought to Rowan as a result of economic announcements. The types of business and industries, he said, would have to be varied in job numbers for growth to be balanced.

“Some facilities will be intensive on property values and skinny on jobs. Others will be very job intensive but not provide much in the way for tax revenues,” he said. “Some facilities may do both. It’s an important thing for folks to understand that there is a value to the community in whatever may come to Rowan County.”

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246