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Growing Rowan: A call for community collaboration

By Greg Edds

For the Salisbury Post

“Why do some communities succeed while others fail? Why do communities with similar assets perform differently? Why do some communities rebound from economic hardship, while their counterparts continue to decline? Why do some communities seize new economic opportunities, while the world passes others by? Why do some communities sustain steady progress while others emerge, then recede?”

These questions come from the book “Grassroots Leaders for a New Economy.” The first time I read those words I remember thinking that these are the same questions Rowan County folks have been asking for quite some time now. Why is it that communities all around us seem to prosper while we seem to be on the struggling end of things?

The answer? According to the book’s authors, “The communities that are most optimistic and ready for the new world practice ‘collaborative advantage.’ They enjoy tight relationships at the intersection of business, government, education, and community which provides regional resiliency and a unique ability to set and achieve longer-term development goals. The important part is not the ingredients — what they have or do not have. The important part is how communities leverage their community assets, processes, and relationships to support the changing needs of their economy.”

In other words, successful communities coordinate their efforts and leverage their assets, their knowledge, their expertise, and their passions to bring about quality, consistent economic growth and opportunity for all.

“Grassroots Leaders” provides encouraging examples of communities all across the country who have created a dynamic framework for economic improvement. These communities first identified those areas that needed improvement, then united around those issues and radically improved their community, their economy, and their future.

So, last year we brought together leaders from across the county to create our own framework for change. Elected officials, educators, business owners, CEOs, plant managers, and even retirees. We met weekly for several months and created an effort we now call “Growing Rowan.” We identified nine initial areas of focus.

  • Workforce Development – The No. 1 asset a company looks for when considering a move to any community is a trained, available workforce. If Rowan County can solve the workforce development challenge we’ll be able to write our own economic growth ticket.
  • Entrepreneurship and Innovation – Growing our economy from within is just as important as attracting existing businesses from outside our community, and since new businesses provide the majority of new jobs created in the U.S., we must work to cultivate and promote a strong spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation right here at home.
  • Target Clusters – Attracting businesses to our community that already supply products or services to our local companies makes economic sense for both businesses, and it creates local jobs and opportunity.
  • Education – Educating our children is a moral issue. A quality education is the foundation upon which our children become productive members of society and it is how they build and transfer personal wealth. Education provides opportunity and helps communities keep pace with an ever-changing economy. It is the single biggest tool in promoting economic equality, reducing poverty and fighting crime.
  • Community Infrastructure – Community Infrastructure includes those quality of life assets within a community that help give it its personality. It includes parks, shopping, dining, arts, entertainment, facilities, and activities. These assets attract new people to our community and make our kids want to stay here, or return after college, to raise their families.
  • Next Generation Philanthropy – We are blessed to be the beneficiary of very kind and generous local philanthropists. But many of them are aging. We need to create a new, more broad-based philanthropic network to continue, and even expand, a vibrant stream of giving for our community.
  • Branding – Our first-ever branding study created the “Be an Original” campaign. Over 1,200 people from inside and outside Rowan County responded to the study’s questionnaire. The adopted branding plan will continue to be rolled out to create a unified message across the county that will help us market ourselves outside our county’s borders.
  • Business Climate – In the past, we have had a reputation for not being very business friendly. If we are going to attract business, create jobs, and expand our tax base, our institutions and bureaucracies must operate with the same sense of urgency and competition that our businesses operate with every day. Are our processes friendly, streamlined, efficient, clear, and predictable?
  • Telling Our Story — Who is telling the Rowan County story? If we don’t tell it then someone else will. What is our message? Who is our audience? By what means do we communicate our message?

On June 23, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., we are holding a community event at the West End Plaza Event Center called “Growing Rowan – A Community Call to Action.” Guest speaker Donnie Charleston, economic policy director from the Institute for Emerging Issues, will present a study that was conducted about Rowan’s ability to survive in an ever-modernizing economy. We’ll also hear additional insights about Rowan County from branding strategist at Chandler Thinks, Steve Chandler. Attendees will also get a chance to meet and hear from the new Rowan Works president and CEO, Rod Crider. Rod will discuss his vision for Rowan’s economic future and present his plans for his first 100 days as the new head of Rowan County’s EDC.

Most importantly, attendees will learn more about the initial nine focus areas and then be given the opportunity to join a strategy team that most closely aligns with their talents, experience and interests. Over the coming months, each team will work to develop comprehensive strategies to help Rowan County become a leader in economic growth, prosperity and opportunity.

We believe it is time for Rowan County to create and implement a new vision; one that promotes an aggressive, dynamic and growing economy and secures a positive future for all of our citizens.

Reserve your seat for the June 23 event on our Growing Rowan Facebook page, visit our website at GrowingRowan.com, or call 704-633-4221.

Greg Edds is chairman of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners.

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