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Editorial: Graduation reminds of an important task

Graduation season is here. It’s reason to refocus our attention to an important but uncompleted task.

Too many of the students who graduate from local colleges will not remain in Rowan County after graduation. Too many young families will choose jobs in other counties over those in Rowan.

When high schools hold commencement ceremonies next month, many students will head to college in another city. After receiving a college degree, a number of those students move back home for a job.

For the future of our community, it’s critical that local leaders find a way to retain graduates from Salisbury’s colleges and lure others to the county. That requires more than building a water and sewer system near Interstate 85 or creating the best animal shelter in the state — both are ongoing projects. A city-owned fiber optic network and historic downtown aren’t enough.

Just as Rowan County recruits business and industry, we should recruit recent college graduates and young families. Diversity adds to the flavor that makes our community vibrant and unique.

To accomplish that task, our local leaders — whether elected or not — should dedicate themselves to a holistic approach that aims to improve the quality of life in many areas.

For example, improving the quality of local, public schools won’t directly lead to new jobs that college graduates desire, but it’s a critical part of the equation. Recruiting industries to the area may provide good jobs for local college graduates of two- and four-year schools, but those offers may not be as enticing as a similar opportunities in Cabarrus County, where Charlotte is a shorter drive away.

Our mindset cannot be that growth from Charlotte, which is already lapping at Rowan County’s boundaries, will lead to sustainable growth, and it’s not unreasonable to think that employees of local companies would choose to live in another county.

Rowan County should be the place to live and work for people of all ages and ethnicities.

Our growth doesn’t have to look like Cabarrus County, where once-rural areas are booming with business. In fact, we suspect that many local residents would prefer future growth preserves rural landscapes. Dan Nicholas Park, for example, shouldn’t be surrounded by apartment complexes.

Instead, Rowan County’s growth should be slow, healthy and diversified. We can become a destination where retirees and young families both want to live.

The good news is that local leaders have taken steps in the right direction.

Salisbury officials, for example, seem to be nearing a decision about Fibrant, which limits the amount city officials can reasonably spend on other projects but provides quality internet service to some at an affordable price.

Rowan County officials have dedicated themselves to building infrastructure that makes companies more likely to move a business to the area.

So, as college and high school graduates stroll across stages this year, we urge local leaders to rededicate themselves to recruiting people in addition to businesses.

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