Rowan Chamber contingent drops in on Washington lawmakers

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 27, 2019

By Mark Wineka

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Terry Osborne, general manager for the Rowan-Kannapolis ABC Board and a former high school history teacher, suggested the perfect place for dinner when a Rowan County Chamber of Commerce contingent traveled to the nation’s capital this past week.

The group dined at The Monocle, an eatery often frequented by lawmakers. Photos of famous politicos adorn most of the walls.

And close to the ceilings, sayings etched into the decor seem appropriate in this highly political town.

One said, for example, that “Washington is the only city where sound travels faster than light.”

The Monocle was appropriate because the chamber group’s main purpose was to visit the offices of U.S. Reps. Richard Hudson and Ted Budd, whose districts include parts of Rowan, and North Carolina’s two U.S. senators, Thom Tillis and Richard Burr.

As if on cue, Tillis walked into the restaurant for dinner while the Rowan group was there.

The next day, the Rowan group visited Tillis first, talked to staff members with Burr’s office, saw Budd briefly and had a sit-down session with Hudson, who told them, “I’m proud of this community, you’re showing a lot of vision.”

At each stop, the Rowan contingent touched on certain items, such as economic development, education, roads, other infrastructure, healthcare, historic tax credits and the opioid crisis.

Chamber President Elaine Spalding left them with folders of information, spelling out things the chamber hopes the lawmakers could be advocates for on Rowan’s behalf.

More specifically, the Rowan spokesmen made cases for a new Interstate 85 interchange for East Spencer, a faster flow of disaster recovery money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, treatment money for the opioid-addicted and grants for improvements to Mid Carolina Regional Airport and restoration of Livingstone College’s 1870 Carnegie Library.

They made sure the lawmakers and their staffs knew of the groundbreaking efforts behind Rowan-Salisbury Schools’ renewal district and the plans represented in a $45 million bond referendum next March for an expansion at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College.

At every stop, Greg Edds, chairman of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners, also reminded the conference-room or office audiences of Chewy’s recent announcement of a new facility in Rowan.

“We just feel like we’re on the cusp of something great,” Edds told John McDonald of Burr’s staff.

The people making the Washington trip included Spalding; Osborne, head of the chamber’s government affairs committee; Edds; his wife, Kim; Dari Caldwell; Nicole Holmes Matangira, current chamber chairman; Pete Teague; East Spencer Mayor Barbara Mallett; Karla Foster; Salisbury Councilwoman Karen Alexander; and Denise Hallett, vice chairman of the Rowan EDC.

Carol Spalding, president of Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, joined some of the group who attended the Elizabeth Dole Foundation’s Heroes and History Makers dinner Wednesday evening at The Anthem, as did Bill and Shari Graham of Salisbury, who were among the sponsors for the event.

Osborne served as a tour guide of sorts as the Rowan group walked between the legislative offices and around the Capitol Hill area.

Edds often started things off in the lawmaker visits, reminding them that it wasn’t all that long ago that Pillowtex closed, and Rowan and Cabarrus counties suffered the largest one-day loss of jobs in the state’s history.

“You know our story,” Edds told Tillis. “We fell pretty fast, pretty quickly, and we have been scratching tooth and nail to bring ourselves out of the pit.”

Over the day of visits, Edds said the $45 million referendum for RCCC could lead to five new facilities touching on Early College, trades, and high-tech training, all designed toward higher-paying jobs.

As for the Rowan-Salisbury Schools’ renewal district, Foster noted for the lawmakers how Rowan is the only renewal district in the state.

“We would really like to be the benchmark for the state and really the country for how we educate children,” Foster said, describing how renewal gives RSS some charter-like flexibilities.

Edds added other districts are watching and noted there are no manuals to follow for what the district is doing, making it both exciting and scary.

“I got attacked during my first campaign when I said I wanted every public school to be a charter school,” Hudson told the Rowan group.

Mallett spoke for a new East Spencer I-85 interchange between Exits 76 and 79, as did several others. She said it was important to Boral Brick and its expansion plans.

Hallett said those kinds of applications and requests are judged on a points system, and the project would receive more points if some additional federal funding could sweeten the pot.

Edd said a new interchange could open up “a tremendous amount of land” for new development, bringing more revenue and jobs to East Spencer. It’s also in an opportunity zone and in every regard “marks all the boxes,” Edds said.

‘Whatever we can do to bump you up the list and make you get seen, that’s what we like doing,” Budd said.

Alexander thanked Budd for his support of historic preservation tax credits and historically black colleges. Carnegie Library on the Livingstone College campus is ‘in need of a critical update,” she told him.

Caldwell, former president of Novant Health Rowan Medical Center, said the Hefner VA Medical Center’s outpatient facilities in Charlotte and Kernersville “are busting at the seams,” and she suggested to Tillis and Hudson that there could be a need for an additional one.

“I’m overdo a visit down there (to the VA),” Hudson said.

Tillis noted he was planning a visit to the Salisbury VA this past Friday and said he tries to have quarterly meetings or a quarterly conference call with North Carolina’s VA medical centers to see what they need.

Tillis said he doesn’t “beat up” on the VA because its health system actually has one of the higher customer satisfaction ratings in the country.

In many of the meetings, the Rowan group was simply asking if any federal dollars are available for various projects, the county would like to be considered.

“I tell everyone I make no value judgments about money you’re seeking from the federal government,” Tillis said. “… If the resources are available, we’ll try to get them for you.”

Tillis said he likes to see his office get involved in a project early, sometimes before the state does. Osborne asked whether it was any advantage when Rowan was part of a regional request.

“You all want to really distinguish your grant request and ask from the federal government?” Tillis said. “Be regional.”

He said he took a lot of criticism years back as a member of the Cornelius town board when he supported an industrial park for Huntersville, but it provided benefit for the whole area.

“When you have towns and subsections of counties coming together,” Tillis said, “that’s important. Regionalism is important. Think about regional zones. Then you’re doing things differently. Then it catches people’s attention.”

Before he met the Rowan Chamber contingent last Wednesday afternoon, Hudson had attended an opioid abuse roundtable discussion whose panel included First Lady Melania Trump, nine senators and eight House members.

The chamber group noted the lack of money available for treatment.

Hudson said he didn’t want money that should be going for treatment being directed to high-priced lawyers and big pharmaceutical companies instead.

“We’re just scratching the surface on treatment,” Hudson said. “I think we have some work left to do.”

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.