If You Aren’t Growing, You Are Dying

SEABROOK SAYS:  GGDC writes about two prime goals: growing jobs and growing the tax base. Every citizen can help everyday: talk up our positives, build our image, make our Gaston a better place.

The Alliance for Growth plan developed by over 100 Gaston County leaders late in 2014 embodies two fundamentally important goals for Gaston County: 1) grow jobs and 2) grow the tax base through greater investment. These goals are premised on the conviction that growth is a positive thing and that a failure to grow inevitably leads at best to mediocrity and at worst to a spiral downward. This condition is exemplified by a quote attributed to numerous authors: “if you aren’t growing, you are dying.” To examine the simple power of this statement, it is helpful to delve deeper into the Alliance for Growth plan and what it can mean to Gaston County’s future growth.

First, we need to acknowledge that growth does create challenges (more demand on public services such as schools, police, fire as well as environmental pressures) and because of that some would argue that growth is neither good nor desirable. We believe this is a very limited view of the potential of a community and its ability to grow in a positive and productive manner. It is also premised on the dubious assumption that somehow it is easier or better to manage a contracting budget, under-utilized school rooms and public safety layoffs, than expansions in those areas. It is said that people “vote with their feet,” and the exodus in America from the declining Rust Belt and Northeast to vibrant and growing New South cities like Charlotte and Austin indicates what most of us believe is better.

If you look at how Gaston County fits into the rapidly-growing Charlotte region, a couple of statistics depict the larger challenges we face. Of all of our peer counties immediately surrounding Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Gaston County has for some time had the slowest rate of population growth. Gaston County also has the highest personal property tax RATE of all those counties (except Lancaster, SC), even higher than Mecklenburg County. Gaston’s lower population growth reflects, among other things, slower job growth here and the misperception that Gaston County is not as desirable a place to live as are some other counties in the region. Lower property values and lower levels of capital investment drive higher tax RATES to generate levels of revenue adequate to provide public services.

The Alliance for Growth plan attacks these challenges head on while also building on Gaston County’s many strengths. As you might expect, many of these challenges and strengths are interrelated. You increase the tax base by increasing both capital investment in and the value of property in Gaston County. Stimulating demand for land through increasing development and higher, more productive use of land will increase the value of land and thus the tax base. This can be accomplished by expanding existing businesses and attracting new businesses, including new residential, commercial, industrial, retail and office users. By stimulating job growth, you provide new and better jobs for residents, and you attract newcomers to Gaston County. These more prosperous residents and newcomers, who work in new or expanded businesses, will drive demand for new retail, homes and professional services.  This is sometimes called a “virtuous circle,” and it certainly applies in Gaston County.

The Alliance for Growth plan envisions a new set of bridges across the Catawba and South Fork Rivers, opening up much better access to and from Charlotte’s I485 outer belt and the region’s job engine at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport and its intermodal yard. The plan has strategies to improve workforce preparedness and career and technical education opportunities, to better match job skills and job opportunities. Likewise, the Alliance for Growth plan includes action steps to reduce the regulatory drag on new businesses and development, and to stimulate entrepreneurs and small businesses. There are also specific action plans for expanding business recruitment, providing more ready-to-develop sites and ready-to-occupy buildings. To capitalize on these many positive actions, we must also improve how a number of key audiences (from newcomers to developers to opinion makers) view Gaston County and our cities and towns. We are pleased to report that we have already made substantial progress on a number of these items, particularly on financing and implementing the plan’s recommendation to develop an Image and Branding campaign for Gaston County.

Growth will surely follow from this new-found focus, commitment and investment in Gaston County by her citizens. After all, the Alliance for Growth plan was developed by Gaston County leaders who have a deep love for this County. They desire to see all of their fellow citizens have the opportunity to experience the American Dream, be that a good, well-paying job, a nice home in a welcoming neighborhood, an inspiring education for their children, abundant recreational opportunities, or any one of a number of other things that make a community great. Working together we can achieve these things and grow to become the leader among counties in the Charlotte region.

Bob Clay, Chair, Greater Gaston Development Corporation                                                                                                   Mark Cramer, Executive Director, Greater Gaston Development Corporation

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