Time to chart new, bold course

Published 10:20 am Wednesday, December 26, 2012

by Michael Clark

During the Franklin-Southampton Area Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Meeting last March and at every opportunity since, I have said it’s time to chart a new, bold course of action for our community — one that has growth and prosperity at its foundation.

A large portion of the bold course of action I reference includes acquiring a new mindset on the subject of economic growth and development.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a member of the Franklin-Southampton Economic Development Inc. Communications Committee, but the views and opinions expressed in this column are completely of my own.

It’s time to realize we are at a critical junction in our community’s future. We can be a community that chooses not to invest in a plan for progress and economic development and thus sees taxes rise, while property values and public schools decline, unemployment rates increase, and county- and city-provided services decrease.

All the things that I think any of us would agree are important, no matter what side of the fence you’re on when it comes to growth.

The other choice is to understand growth is the lifeblood of our future. That it can be properly managed and co-exist with those traditional rural values that are important to all of us for a balanced community that is prosperous economically as well as in its quality of life.

I believe over the past year or so, the seeds have been planted and are now sprouting a wave of “new thinkers” who realize we had better choose an investment into economic growth and job creation. But, much more needs to be done than just “thinking” about our future.

We must begin doing the actual work that will frame our future. The world of economic development is highly competitive. Communities are winning or losing prospects by the narrowest of margins.

Companies choose one location over another based on a number of factors, including such things as access to skilled labor, the quality of school systems, access to major transportation corridors, prepared sites with proper zoning, available infrastructure including water, sewer, electric and natural gas.

Companies want communities that have “pad ready” sites. Meaning they can sign a deal today and be in business tomorrow. We best be one of those communities that has its proverbial “ducks in a row” when it comes to job creation.

I’ve been encouraged lately with the newfound interest by leaders in Franklin and Southampton County to engage each other and explore areas for shared services and cooperation, as witnessed with the recent memorandum of understanding, which was approved by both localities.

I give much credit to Southampton County Administrator Mike Johnson and Franklin City Manager Randy Martin. Both fully understand Franklin and Southampton County are truly “one community and one economy.”

They understand our road to progress will be paved by job growth, investing in economic development, the sharing of services and maybe most importantly, a shared vision. They understand the line where the city ends and the county begins is but mere signage along the roadside.

It is time to “reinvent ourselves.” Time we fully come to grips with the fact the great economic bubble provided by “the mill” and agriculture, which insulated us for many decades and allowed us to prosper in our own little cocoon, burst some time ago and will not be returning.

But, like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, we have before us a grand opportunity to reshape, redefine and reinvent our community, economically and otherwise. We can have progress and growth, new people and new ideas, and still protect our rural character and values.

But, make no mistake, the clock is ticking. We have but a narrow window of opportunity to lay the foundation and return the Franklin-Southampton community to, in the words of President Ronald Reagan, “a shining city on a hill.”

MICHAEL CLARK  is president of the Franklin-Southampton Area Chamber of Commerce and can be reached at wlqm@wlqmradio.com.