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Editorial: Protecting Rowan’s brand

History, architecture

The Peter Kern House is one of Rowan County's historic structures.

The Peter Kern House is one of Rowan County’s historic structures.

Decent Peggy Gray, on the right,  leads a group through the 1925 J.R. Bias House on Mitchell Avenue during the annual OctoberTour in Salisbury.

Decent Peggy Gray, on the right, leads a group through the 1925 J.R. Bias House on Mitchell Avenue during the annual OctoberTour in Salisbury.

Branding research presented to community and business leaders last week yielded encouraging results overall. Rowan County is perceived more positively by outsiders than locals might imagine. But the survey also found some areas that need improvement and deserve action. If we are to protect our brand, as consultant Steve Chandler suggested, we also need to address some shortcomings.

The No. 1 challenge was the area’s self-image, as mentioned in Tuesday’s editorial. Local people surveyed by ChandlerThinks used many positive terms when they talked about how outsiders might view the area, but they threw in some negative ones, too, such as backwater and racist. Outsiders who were surveyed did not see Rowan that way, fortunately, and we hope they never do. How to erase the perception from residents’ minds, however, is a tall task.    

The community survey found location at the top of the list of things residents appreciate about this area, close enough to metros to take advantage of what they offer and far enough away to escape sprawl and traffic. Near the bottom of the list, however, was “progressive thinking.” A dynamic community that’s attractive to outsiders and visitors cannot stay stuck in the past. This is not about politics as much as economic outlook.

East Spencer surfaced as a concern as the group looked over perceptions of Rowan communities. Outsiders viewed the town as friendly, quiet and rural, but the word “crime” came up, and Rowan residents mentioned poverty, struggling and depressed. “We need to go right at this,” Chandler said. “This is a part of Rowan County, folks. It’s one of our brothers and sisters.” What can Rowan County do to help East Spencer’s economy improve?

Chandler struck the unity chord again in discussing Salisbury, which emerged in the survey as the cultural center of the county. “I’m not talking politics here,” he said, alluding to past rifts between local governments. “Salisbury belongs to all of Rowan County.” Asked what Rowan County would lack if Salisbury did not exist, respondents came up with loads of positives — history and architecture, arts and culture, shopping, business hub, restaurants and a sense of place, among others. But crime ranked fifth among things the county might lack if Salisbury did not exist, and that perception is also troubling. Salisbury leaders recognize the need to address crime; the search is on for a new chief and several officers. But if crime stopped at the city limits, Sheriff Kevin Auten would not need the 154 deputies he has on the payroll. Let’s fight crime everywhere, and build a reputation for safety and security.

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