Editorial: Securing the save for Rowan County

Published 12:01 am Thursday, January 6, 2022

The Charlotte region is on the mound in the bottom of the ninth inning and the coach is nursing a one-run lead.

The coach turns to his bullpen to look for a closer to secure the win. A few years ago, that coach might have turned to a county like Cabarrus, Iredell or any number of the other communities in the growing Charlotte metropolitan area.

Now, the Charlotte region is increasingly turning to Rowan County, says Commissioners Chairman Greg Edds. That’s in large part due to a top-tier economic development team led by the “unbelievable” Rod Crider and relationships built over a period of years, Edds said.

Still recovering from the Great Recession, Rowan County officials in 2013 or 2014 couldn’t have dreamed about an opportunity like “Project Rabbit,” which proposes to build a fulfillment center with 2,500 full-time jobs, 2,000 seasonal part-time jobs and $584 million in private investment. The deal isn’t final, but county commissioners have scheduled a tax incentive hearing for Jan. 18 and will do their best to convince the company behind the name that Rowan County is the best place to set up shop.

The opportunity has its roots in Chewy.com’s decision to build a massive fulfillment center in the community, Interstate 85’s expansion and pre-existing resources. Talk to Edds, Crider or another business leader and they’ll tell you Chewy broke through barriers to the county’s economic development potential.

“These projects coming our way have been a Godsend because there had been a dry spell for so long,” Edds said.

Interest from new projects can be paired with positive population trends to project that the best is yet to come.

Data from the 2020 census show the Interstate 85 corridor as a major population growth area in North Carolina, and Rowan County will be perfectly positioned if that trend continues — close enough to Charlotte and the Triad to serve both markets with one facility. It’s also got resources that other counties of Rowan’s size and stature do not — a top-notch community college, two local colleges that are making investments in their future and a public school system working hard to improve the futures of local children. Companies should look favorably upon the county’s geographical position as well as its resources.

But reasonable people will ask about salaries that new jobs are bringing. That’s a major question county leaders face: What kind of community do they want Rowan to become? Sure, new jobs are coming, but what kinds of jobs are they? Which economic development opportunities do county leaders want to offer tax incentives and grants to?

It’s easier than ever to picture the kind of economic growth that elected officials and business leaders predicted decades ago — that growth from Charlotte would spill over Rowan County’s borders in waves. That growth could allow local leaders to transform what it looks like to live and work in Rowan County.

They’ll need to select the right pitches and ball placement to secure the save.