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The Chewy Boon: Spencer aldermen candidates talk impending growth

By Andie Foley
For the Salisbury Post

SPENCER – In an inadvertent compensation for its small size, the town of Spencer has spent the past year in clear view of the public eye.

The 3,264-resident town made waves in mid-December as hundreds rallied together in support of North Rowan High School — one of the first schools up for consideration as the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education began talking about consolidation.

Victory came with a pause in talks of closing the school, but the town’s cycle of news-making continued: its purchase of Park Plaza, the resignation of former Town Manager Terrence Arrington, and he expansion of Innospec among the issues.

The controversies laid the pathway to the 2019 municipal election season, perhaps explaining the large interest in the town’s six seats on the Board of Aldermen. The four incumbents who filed for re-election — David Smith, Rashid Muhammad, Sharon Hovis and Mike Boone — are joined by eight challengers in the Nov. 5 election.

And while the ages and occupations of these challengers vary, each has eyes on a potential upward swing for the area: another breaking-news item, the construction of a 700,000-square-foot e-commerce facility off Long Ferry Road.

The facility, Chewy, brings with it the promise of 1,200 jobs by 2025 and a completion date of June next year.

For candidates in the Spencer Board of Aldermen race, this around-the-corner completion is a reason for both celebration and preparation. Growth is on the way; now how should the town capitalize on it?

Sam Morgan, 68

Looking ahead to Chewy, Morgan loosely quoted Tom Campbell, former assistant state treasurer of North Carolina: “You can’t convince companies to go anywhere they don’t want to go,” Morgan said.

The town would do well to view creating a local workforce with this same perspective, he said. Specifically, the town should address the number of properties in need of maintenance.

“Code enforcement plays a big role in that,” Morgan said.

With codes enforced and properties more attractive, Morgan said he’d like to see the town develop a marketing package for the Chewy corporate office, a listing for new recruits of available properties in the area.

David Smith, 74 (incumbent) 

For Smith, the looming presence of Chewy brings to the forefront another critical issue: the need for additional small businesses such as a bank and drugstore, everyday necessities for Chewy’s employees, he said.

Smith said the need for amenities is even more pressing with an additional 30 jobs coming to the area through Innospec’s pending expansion.

“If we have nothing for them here, then we have nothing to give them,” said Smith.

As a sitting member of the board, Smith said the town has been working on small business recruitment, but those businesses “come slow.”

Rashid Muhammad, 41 (incumbent)

Muhammad called Chewy’s presence in the area “very beneficial.”

“It will be an avenue for income and jobs for people within Spencer as well as within Rowan County and surrounding areas,” he said.

Moreover, he said, the number of those who move to the area may increase as well — meaning the possibility of an increased tax base for the town.

“With that energy coming in, with the employees that are going to be working at that place, they’re going to have to some place to stay, to dwell: a residence,” he said.

David Karczewski, 49

Using insight from his time on the town Planning Board and Historic Preservation Commission, Karczewski said Spencer is uniquely positioned to meet the interests and desires of millennial homebuyers.

“Nowadays, they’re looking at smaller, more energy-efficient homes,” he said, adding that the town has an abundance of lots available that could accommodate this style of home. “I think we’ve found a niche.”

Additionally, he said the presence of Chewy could encourage expansion of the small business presence with additional retailers, grocers and restaurants.

“Small business competition is healthy,” he said.

Bob Bish, 73

Growth, in Bish’s perspective, starts at the individual level: namely, with workforce development for Spencer residents.

“I’m assuming that Chewy wants to be around for a while,” he said. “We can start to prepare going backwards from the high school graduates … and get them into some type of job training.”

The shipping facility will open “a host of vocational training … for those who don’t intend to go to college,” Bish said.

He, like others, also noted the potential for a tax-base increase. “There are a number of houses that are available, … houses that just may need a little work. They can get a good bargain on them.”

Sharon Hovis, 51 (incumbent)

Hovis, like others, sees Chewy’s presence as an opportunity to “expand on properties.” Specifically, she said, “we can start by turning things around with our residential living spaces.”

Hovis said she hopes the shipping facility and its 1,200 jobs will encourage contractors to come in and build or others to purchase existing homes for restoration.

“We don’t want just to rent,” she said. “We want people to to live here.”

And more residents would provide more opportunity for her biggest goal in seeking re-election: community engagement.

“We shouldn’t need an athletic event to bring people here, just an event in itself,” Hovis said.

Patricia Sledge, 69

For Sledge, an additional 1,200 jobs points to another encouraging type of growth: the growth in revenue for existing businesses as employees patronize local eateries.

More than that, she said, she hopes new employees and potential residents discover “some of the nice things there are about Spencer that we don’t often promote.”

Those things include the library park and coming park at Park Plaza, the North Carolina Transportation Museum, the Doll and Toy Museum and the walking trail in Stanback Forest.

“We want people who work here during the week to come back on the weekend and spend some time and money here in Spencer,” Sledge said.

Howard Harding Doby Jr., 70

On the construction of Chewy’s Interstate 85-neighboring facility, Doby said the shipping and receiving center will be the greatest thing he’s seen for the area.

“Now, since that’s happening, there’s going to be more opportunities for growth of industry,” he said.

Doby said he hopes the increases in industry and local revenue will lead to additional amenities the town desperately needs for N.C. Transportation Museum visitors.

“We need a place so bad for tourists to come and have a decent restaurant and motel or hotel accommodations,” he said. “That need is so great.”

Steve Miller, 68

For Miller, Chewy’s impending arrival meets a less tangible need for the residents of Spencer. “It gives a little more optimism with the people,” he said.

Miller said the town, at large, has needed to work on fostering an upbeat sense of positivity in its residents for some time. Recent developments, such as the purchase of Park Plaza, had the town “overall on an upward swing,” he said.

And the forward momentum is sure to continue, helping Spencer achieve community and retail growth, said Miller.

“Overall, the town is on an upward swing,” he said. “It will prosper with the right people running the town.”

Patricia Secreast, 70

According to Secreast, the boon of Chewy brings with it three main benefits: in real estate, education and small business expansion.

North area schools, the retired educator said, could certainly use more students and currently have room for them, and additional business would serve not just Chewy employees but the town’s tourism industry.

“The demand for eating establishments has been so great in this area,” Secreast said. “People visit the museums and wonder where they can get something to eat. We hate for them to have to go all the way to Salisbury.”

Mike Boone, 67

Campaigning for his fourth term on the board, Boone said Spencer officials are already working to prepare for growth brought about by Chewy, with Step 1 being “get(ting) our home base up to par.”

The town was working to change ordinances and allow for 50-foot lots for housing, lots that could be rapidly capitalized on for new employees looking to relocate.

Additionally, “We’re always trying to attract retail business. We’ve had some success there, and hopefully with Chewy coming in, … we can get some more restaurants in town and capitalize on that.”

Candidate Jason Doby did not respond to the Salisbury Post’s request for comment for this story.

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