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China Grove hears results of economic development assessment

CHINA GROVE — Following a September work session with community stakeholders, the China Grove Town Council was presented Tuesday with the results of an economic development assessment.

The evaluation was offered through North Carolina Main Street and Rural Planning, a part of the state Department of Commerce. According to Jeff Emory, community economic development planner with the department, it was designed to provide a “rapid and efficient assessment that will ‘jump start’ a community’s development efforts.”

Emory and other workers used feedback from stakeholders as well as national research data to compile a list of China Grove’s assets and weaknesses and suggest the next steps as the town looks toward growth.

Assets included the town’s location, connectivity, number of restaurants, sense of community and strong leadership.

Weaknesses included a lack of available commercial buildings and needs for downtown investment in infrastructure, parking and more. A lack of retail options has resulted in annual retail leakage totaling $13.8 million, Emory said.

But with 50,000 people living within a five-mile radius of the town, opportunities abound for growth. Emory said that many preliminary steps toward reaching that goal would require little to no financial investment by the town.

Recommendations include working to develop a plan to increase community involvement and communication, to increase downtown retail and dining options, to improve the appearance of downtown buildings, and to ensure orderly growth of key intersections.

Mayor Lee Withers said that while little information was surprising in terms of the town’s weaknesses, he hoped the report will open the eyes of the full council and downtown merchants not involved in the original work session.

“We’ve got to invest in the infrastructure that we do have so our downtown can look as good at it can,” Withers said. “We’re going to have to invest in ourselves.”

He said the report helped identify some of what town planners, administrators and leaders were missing, and it helped identify the next steps.

These steps, he said, include prioritizing goals and looking at ways to accomplish them financially.

“Our biggest focus will be the key interchanges anywhere along I-85,” he said. “I think that’s probably  the most important for us as we increase our tax base. And, as we increase our tax base, that allows us more access to capital to truly reinvest inside of our community.”

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