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Editorial: Filling the doughnut hole

Anyone who left Friday’s Growing Rowan meeting after the first presentation could have felt a sense of doom. The 200 or so people in attendance learned that trends in demographics and technology point to rough times ahead for Rowan County and much of the state and nation.

The atmosphere in the room fairly crackled with optimism by the end of the four-hour confab, though. South Carolina might have landed all the big industries lately, and robots may to take many of our jobs, but Rowan County leaders are marching into the future with both eyes open and a sense of resolve. They share a commitment to work together, as organizers put it, to GroRoCo — Grow Rowan County.

That unity is no small feat. As surrounding communities have prospered more — landing Rowan in the proverbial doughnut hole — it’s easy to assign blame for the county’s shortcomings and bicker about how to proceed. That’s wasted energy. As county commission Chairman Greg Edds told the group Friday, it’s time to focus on solutions, not problems. “Everyone in this community knows that we could and should be doing better,” Edds said.

To be clear, collaboration doesn’t call for rose-colored glasses or denying that something is wrong. Indeed, as Friday’s session demonstrated, step one is coming to grips with sobering realities — job loss, poverty, demographic shifts. Only then can people fully understand the urgent need to band together and set a new course.

Collaboration also doesn’t mean putting down the county’s fundamental conservatism or wasting taxpayers’ money. Rowan needs a wealth of ideas and actions, not lavish spending. There’s not a penny to spare on poorly thought-out, unproductive expenditures.

Steve Chandler, the Tennessee consultant who led the county’s branding project, said one of Rowan’s strengths is a diverse spirit of individualism — the most positive spin, he’s been told, on the fact that folks in Rowan can be hard-headed.

Maybe that “individualism” is why some people resist rah-rah talk of collaboration and growth. They like Rowan County just as it is — or, better yet, the way it used to be in an idealized past. Growth means change, and change is scary. Consider, though, the thousands of jobs lost over the past two decades and the impact of technology. The county already has changed and continues to change — and not all in good ways.

In leading the push for growth, Edds is determined to fill the doughnut hole — to transform Rowan from a void on the map into a dynamic center. To his credit, he’s involving as many people as possible. Growing Rowan is off to a strong, unified start.

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