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Editorial: When will it be Rowan’s turn for growth?

Sitting in Rowan County, it can seem as if our southern neighbors score all the economic wins while we try to see the silver lining to our mixed bag.

In 2016, Freightliner in Cleveland laid off nearly 1,500 workers and last month the company announced it would hire back 50 people. This summer, Schneider Electric announced plans to close its Salisbury facility — a loss of 63 good-paying jobs.

But it’s not all bad news. Local companies are expanding. Businesses based elsewhere are building facilities in Rowan County.

Local economic growth, however, seems small compared to announcements in Cabarrus County.

Last month, the Kannapolis City Council passed a massive tax incentives package to land a 600-job Amazon warehouse. Meanwhile, an influx of new residents has forced Cabarrus County to build a number of new schools.

Are market forces simply too much to overcome? Are major businesses simply choosing Cabarrus County because of its proximity to Charlotte?

Rowan Works Economic Development Director Rod Crider says location matters to a certain extent. For example, an auto parts supplier might locate in South Carolina to be close to the BMW plant between Greenville and Spartanburg, Crider said. The same could be true for the Kannapolis Amazon warehouse.

“Maybe a few miles does make a difference in some cases,” Crider said

But there are things that a community can do. One example, Crider said, is Rowan County’s policy of acting on building permits within a seven-day period and offering to act on permits within 24 hours for a fee.

Improving schools should be another item on our to-do list, but that requires more than a vote because poverty affects how well students learn.

Gun violence in Salisbury city limits is another problem. That, too, is complicated and requires a multi-faceted approach that’s not easily solved by a city council election.

There are efforts aimed at improving schools and reducing crime, but it’s clear we haven’t reached a solution.

Simply put, we’ve got to make the best of the hand we’re dealt while recommitting to improving our community from Cleveland to Gold Hill. Our efforts must involve conversations about what sort of community Rowan County should become. Do we want to become Concord or just a better version of what we already are?

Meanwhile, major economic developments to our south — the Amazon warehouse, for example — are not bad, Crider said.

“Now, we would have liked to capture the property taxes, but that’s going to provide employment opportunities for our people, too,” he said. “We have to be able to celebrate the success of our neighbors, especially when it benefits us.”

Asked about Rowan County’s future prospects, Crider echoed a statement made often by local officials — we’re next in line.

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