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Elect 2019: East Spencer candidates talk economic development

By Shavonne Walker
shavonne.walker@salisburypost.com

EAST SPENCER — For years the elephant in the town of East Spencer has been its expensive water rates, but it’s clear among candidates running for a seat on the board that economic development is the tie that binds them all.

The town board has slowly been putting the infrastructure in place to be more appealing to potential businesses, but have yet to snag a large or small retailer. Among the eight candidates running for mayor and town board, all agree they need to recruit businesses to increase their revenue.

Newcomer Travis Carter suggests starting by talking with existing businesses and owners about why they’ve remained and what they believe the town could improve to attract more businesses.

Carter, 28, said the town needs to pursue big and small businesses, including Dollar General, banks like F&M and others to get them interested. He said there is land available in accessible locations that would benefit not just East Spencer residents but the surrounding towns like Spencer and Salisbury, too.

Carter, who sits on the East Spencer Planning Board, has filed as a candidate to serve out the unexpired term of Otis Gibson, a long-serving East Spencer alderman who died in late 2018. Carter is a project superintendent in the Greensboro office of the Christman Co., a nationally recognized construction services firm based in Michigan.

Alderman Curtis Cowan, who is seeking re-election to a third term, said the town board has worked very diligently to market the area to create more growth, but could do more.

Cowan said the board should, “let people know what we have and what’s in East Spencer.”

Cowan, 49, who has been mayor pro-tem for two terms, said he wants to “continue working with this current board seeking grants that help the citizens of East Spencer and the town’s infrastructure.”

One priority for him that’s had a slow start is developing the former Rowan-Salisbury School System Administration building — also known as the 1909 East building. The property has sat largely unused, with the exception of a few scattered town and private events.

“We have to figure something out with it soon,” he said. “I hope that one day we can make it more of an asset to the town.”

If elected, Deloris High, 78, would enter her fourth term on the board. She said the town board has developed a plan to bring in businesses, which is contained in its Gateway Plan. The plan is designed to create development around and near Interstate 85 at Exit 79 and Andrews Street.

The incumbent said it’s her hope that new industries like pet product retailer Chewy will draw other retailers to the county and, specifically, to East Spencer.

“To have not only a warehouse, but a service station, restaurants, medical facility, and grocery store so our citizens don’t have to go out of town to spend their money. But spend it here to bring revenue to us,” High said.

Her goal is to see East Spencer flourish.

“We still have more work to do,” she said.

First-term alderman Tony Hillian, 44, is running for mayor against incumbent Barbara Mallett, who has been mayor for four previous terms.

Hillian said he believes networking is going to be one of the best ways to get people interested enough in the town to bring in industry and businesses.

“We need rooftops,” he said. “A Dollar General, a community credit union.”

But, Hillian said the responsibility doesn’t solely rest upon the board.

It will take the community getting involved and “getting them to buy in what we are doing. We’re not going to grow if you don’t get the citizens involved,” he said.

“We have meetings with no action. We need to build up our infrastructure and taxes. Get up and go meet people. Network with other people to see if they would be interested in coming to East Spencer,” he said.

Hillian said he’s been active in the community all his life and hopes to continue to do so as mayor.

Mallett, 72, admits the town has a lot of retail leakage.

“All of our money that we have is leaking out to other communities — Spencer, Salisbury, Lexington,” she said.

She said the town has to start evaluating how it can start building in the community through retail recruitment.

“Many retailers do survive in smaller rural communities. We have to do basic retail recruitment. We have to reach out to people with the expertise,” Mallett said.

She added that the town must first evaluate its needs, determine what is wanted and above all — get community input.

Mallett was first elected to the board in 2005 and has served as the town clerk and finance officer.

Alderman John Noble, 72, hopes to add another term to his record of 30 years on the town board as he runs for re-election. Noble, who has been mayor pro-tem three times, said he and other members of the board have begun a number of positive initiatives, but he’s not done yet.

He suggests creating an incentive plan to gain interest from businesses to build in East Spencer.

“I have a strong interest in the town because I’ve been here all my life and I’m very concerned about the safety and welfare of the citizens. I’ve tried to be honest and sincere about the issues I’ve come upon,” Nobel said.

Noble is retired from the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office after 46 years, serving as a lieutenant supervisor in the courthouse division.

Shawn Rush, 48, who created DRJ Trinity Business Group LLC, a marketing business said that is what is missing that would attract businesses — marketing.

“Going and reaching out to existing businesses like Dollar General. They will stick one anywhere. Also being more active in local and state municipality-related organizations. Marketing is very essential,” Rush said.

He said the town of East Spencer may also have to partner with other cities to draw interest.

Rush is the third vice-chairman of the Rowan County Democratic Party.

Rush said the town should be flourishing.

“We have to reach out to the right people; bring restaurants here,” he said.

He said there’s part of Andrews Street that could be and should be developed.

Rush has said the reason he ran for a seat on the town board is to help shine a new light on East Spencer. For a long time, there’s been almost a dark cloud over the town and in the minds of people, he said.

Albert Smith, who is also running to fill the unexpired term of the late Otis Gibson, is making his first run in the political arena.

Smith, 60, was born and raised in East Spencer and said he felt it was time to get involved in his community.

“We have a good town but the infrastructure is not where it should be. The Dunbar Center is an eyesore. We need to fix up some of these houses so the town can attract some new businesses,” Smith said.

He said the town needs to show itself friendly and seek out companies that they want to get here.

“We have to have communication with business leaders to show them we do care,” Smith said.

He said the only way growth will happen is if the water issues are resolved and the infrastructure is in place.

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