Greg Edds: Rowan must be competitive
Improving our community’s financial future is complex. After the 2014 election, county commissioners began to lay the groundwork for attracting and retaining good jobs, broadening and increasing our tax base, and improving the opportunities for every citizen of Rowan County. Critics pretend that decades of bad decisions (or no decisions) can be erased overnight. Ask anyone involved in the hard work of community-building, and they’ll strongly disagree.
There is no single elixir that will cure what ails us. In 2014, I said that we have a lot of issues to address. While I still believe that to be true, there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t hear someone say that they’ve never been so optimistic about Rowan County’s future. There are a lot of good people responsible for creating these positive winds of change.
We all agree that jobs are necessary to the financial and social health of our community, but we don’t need just “any” jobs. We need good jobs, jobs that provide good benefits and salaries that exceed our current average income, or we’re going backwards. Increasing our average income brings new opportunity to our community and helps people spend more time planning for their future instead of worrying about the present.
In addition, a healthy, steady stream of new capital investment is critical to providing a broader, larger tax base to help fund those things that are important to our community.
But successful communities don’t just happen by chance. There are things we need to start doing that we’ve not done before, there are things that we’re already doing that need significant improvement, and then there are some things that we’ve got to stop doing if we want investors and their dollars to land here.
Over the coming weeks I’ll lay out some of the critical issues we face, what we’ve been doing to address them, and what we can do to improve Rowan’s future. Here’s a preview:
• Our EDC must be aggressive and effective. The EDC made some big changes in 2017. They attracted new leadership with a nationally recognized track record, added a director of business development, seated a talented new board with strong credentials, and they now have funding that is more competitive with their peers from across the region.
• We need to cultivate strong relationships with organizations that have the power to send jobs and investment our way. In the past, these organizations have shied away from Rowan County for various reasons. Since 2015, we have expended considerable time and energy building new relationships and repairing some old ones. We’re already seeing positive results.
• Strategic investments in infrastructure must be done to capitalize on one of our greatest assets, available land. Without available water and sewer, these parcels are just vacant fields.
• We need to have a healthy inventory of industrial sites ready for development. Imagine walking into Food Lion and finding nothing but empty shelves. That was Rowan County. We’ve been working hard to build an inventory of available sites and we now have almost 2,000 acres set aside and ready for development.
• We also need an inventory of available buildings when prospects are looking for existing facilities. We created the Granite Industrial Park in 2015 and a new 150,000 square foot industrial spec building is currently under construction. Four more spec buildings are planned for that park and now we’re working with other private investors to build additional spec buildings in Rowan County.
• A quality, modern education is not only an economic development and jobs issue, it is a moral issue. We continue to work with the school board and business leaders to create new and relevant education programming that will help meet our employers’ existing skills demands and help our kids compete in this modern economy.
• A trained and available workforce is the No. 1 demand of companies looking to relocate or expand. This is a national issue, not just a local one. We’re currently working with our schools and RCCC to become a “Certified Work-Ready Community” and a magnet for potential employers.
• Only a few years ago, quality of life issues were an afterthought in the recruiting wars. Now, they’re a key driver in the decision making process. We have a huge jump start on most communities when it comes to our quality of life assets, but we still have work to do, like reducing crime and addressing the opioid issue.
• Our rules governing business and industrial development must be clear and necessary and our local governments must have a can-do attitude. Prospects will either view our development process as asset or a liability when deciding where to relocate.
• Recently, we asked a group of leaders “which of you is responsible for marketing Rowan County?” The room sat silent. If we don’t tell our own story, someone else will. That is going to change.
• Our economy cannot be dynamic if our community is weak. We desperately need our families and our faith community to be strong, relevant and involved. Strong families and a strong faith community help strengthen our moral compass and provide social and financial stability. Imagine what stronger families would do for our kids, our schools and crime. Imagine the impact on local education if 1,000 members of our faith community were organized, united and determined to help our schools conquer the literacy challenge.
We believe Rowan’s future is bright and our potential unlimited. Success, however, is completely up to us. We need to treat our challenges as opportunities and work to make our community regionally and globally competitive. Our future and our children’s future depends on it.
Greg Edds is chairman of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners.