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Friday, October 30, 2009

The City Council Candidate Forum Last Night - 10/29/2009 - (Audio Available)

I attended last night's City Council forum at the Chamber of Commerce. I want to thank the Hickory Young professional for providing this format. I want to thank the Chamber for allowing the use of their venue. I want to thank the candidates for their participation. I want to thank all of the people who attended the event

I think that each candidate represented themselves well. I thought that the questions and statements from the audience were fair and representative of what the public, in this community, desires to here. Below is a summary of each of the candidates, who they are, and which ward they are running for:

Z. Ann Hoyle is the incumbent in Ward 4. She is from the Ridgeview area and is a strong supporter and advocate for the African-American community. She has served on the city council since 1990.

Hank Guess is the challenger in Ward 4. He is a Retired former Police Captain with the City of Hickory. He resides in the Mountain View area.

Jill Patton is the incumbent in Ward 6. She lives in Northwest Hickory. She is the Vice-President of DeFeet International in Hildebran. Mrs. Patton has served on the council since 2005.

Harry Hipps is the challenger in Ward 6. He is from Newton and a lifelong resident of Catawba County. He has been a resident in Hickory since 1998 and manages the Pretzel Time store in the Valley Hills Mall.

Below is the audio from the forum. Most of you know that I support Harry Hipps, who is a contributor on this blog and a person that I have known for 25 years. I do not want to influence your opinions of the answers that were given during this debate, so I will not provide commentary in this article. I tried to amplify the recording and reduce the hiss level to the best of my ability. So without further adieu, here are the audio links:

City Council Candidate Forum - Segment 1
City Council Candidate Forum - Segment 2
City Council Candidate Forum - Segment 3
City Council Candidate Forum - Segment 4
City Council Candidate Forum - Segment 5

Below are the download links to the recordiing of each candidate from WHKY's First Talk Show -
Audio Download link to Ms. Hoyle's appearance on Hal Row's Show.
Audio Download link to Mr. Guess's appearance on Hal Row's Show.
Audio link to Mrs. Patton's appearance on Hal Row's Show.
Audio Link to Mr. Hipp's appearance on Hal Row's Show.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Hickory By Choice 2030 Workshop: 4th Meeting - 10/27/2009

Brian Frazier, Director of Planning and Development at City of Hickory, NC, opened the meeting and made some general comments about the plan. Basically he made the same introductory statements that he has made in the past. You can read the introductory statements from the previous meetings below. This was basically time to get people up to speed on the information from the past workshops and what the advisory committee has been up to. Brian then introduced Bill Grimes. You can check out the city website and HBC 2030 to see what the process is all about.

Mr. Grimes also went over the purpose of the original HBC plan. He stated that the challenge is to take the HBC plan of 10 years ago and try to make sure that it fits with where Hickory is today. Hickory is a different place than it was 10 years ago, at least economically. The overall plan's overriding Principle (goal) was to provide for a walkable Hickory. The original plan called for commercial services and institutions to be within an easy walk of where they live. The land use plan was based upon a concentric ring theory (series of).

One of the things done earliest on in this process was to see if walkability a goal that the community still supports. In the first meetings it was determined that yes that is a concept worth executing. However, there may be conditions that keep us from achieving that in every possible case. The land use plan echoes that plan by trying to centralize the population intense and service commercial areas. Each pod represents a neighborhood center that is starting to take shape.

The problem is that existing land use development patterns are more in keeping with the zoning map. The zoning map has tended to create corridors. We need to help the centers thrive, while at the same time recognizing that we have a existing corridor development context. We need the corridors to succeed and they need to succeed in such a way that they help the centers to get to the way that we want them to be.

The commercial uses developing along both the centers and the corridors are essentially developing the same way. We need to find a way to diminish the competition between the corridors and the centers. We need to see a symbiotic relationship between the corridors and the centers. The Land Use strategy needs to be set up to help the center succeed.

The Advisory Committee has been utilizing the information from these workshops and trying to figure out how to deal with the conflict between Hickory by Choice and the Land Development Code. The Advisory Committee has gone through the exercise of deciding which centers and which commercial corridors have an opportunity to develop into the HBC ideal. They have looked at the commercial designations to find ways to characterize those and classify those so that we can take the next step forward. They have also explored zoning strategies to try to achieve this.

The first part of this process has dealt with policy, now we are going to start dealing with regulations. The advisory committee considered formed based zoning (here is a link to different types of zoning principles) to achieve mixed uses and walkability. That is a possible tool, but Mr. Grimes believes that some of these things can be achieved by utilizing the current structure of the zoning code with just a couple of modifications. There is an opportunity to maybe make this happen in the future.

This night we are looking at zoning strategies and focusing on proposed changes. Right now there are over a dozen planned developments. These are fairly arcane zoning districts, very specialized to suit individual development proposals. They make the zoning code difficult to administer and they don't make the developing environment easy.

There is some new legislation that will help address this. There are too many commercial districts and some of the designations needs to be combined. This is important when it comes to designations.

Planned Development zoning happens when someone has a great idea, but there isn't necessarily an answer for it in the existing codes. What the city has traditionally done is look at it as a zone change. This is a two-step process. the city council would adopt a zone change to planned development and then the planning commission would approve the specific development to fulfill the requirements of that zoning district. What will be looked at is a conditional zone change. The conditional process achieves basically the same thing, but it is much more consolidated.

The original zoning concept allows uses that are permitted by right. If the zoning changes in the traditional manner, then there are an entirely new set of land uses that are permitted underneath that zoning district. What the general use zone change does not require is that the person who requests this zone change must commit to what that zone change is going to be. This has led to zone changes that occur from a speculative standpoint, because they feel that their property will be worth more if it is zoned for a higher intensity use, even if they have no immediate plans to develop it at that time.

With the planned development zoning it is a two-step process, where you have the city council acting on a planned development zone designation, but then you have a planned development project attached to that property. So there is a special standard attached to that property and based on a development project. It reduces the speculation issue, because the person who is requesting the zone change already has an idea of what they are going to do with the land. What you will see with the approval is a master plan attached to iit and it allows the city council to attach specific conditions to that approval. This will keep whatever is happening on a particular site from negatively effecting the properties around it.

What happens with conditional zoning is the same as planned development zoning, except instead of the developer going through two processes, it is consolidated into one. It is legislative and it is subjected to a hearing before the planning board and the city council. It helps on both sides. The planning commission's role will be reduced to more of an advisory role in this process. The community and developers benefit because they only have to go through one process of public hearings.

Conditional zoning will make it easier for the city to mix uses in the centers. Mr. Grimes envisions conditional zoning happening in and around the centers where people are interested in doing something a little more flexible (Narrower streets, integrating a residential component into a commercial building, etc.). It will be applied to areas where we want to mix uses and make areas a little more compact and interesting.

The next subject Mr. Grimes addressed was the City Center Pedestrian Overlay District in the city's center. This District extends pretty far to the west and east of downtown. The intention was to create an environment for people to walk and be out and about. This district type tries to apply standards to make this area an interesting place. Mr. Grimes feels that this designated area is too large. What happens is that there are a lot of warehouse buildings in this space. They have interesting architecture, but they are difficult to retrofit to this district's glazing standard. This district tends to paint Downtown with a single brush.

Some of these areas are successful, while others aren't and won't be unless we look towards wiping out that building stock and replacing it with something else. That is not what is happening Downtown. These buildings can be used for something, but it is just not happening. It is rare for these districts to encompass over 6 or 7 blocks, yet we have the one here extending out to nearly a 1/2 a square-mile. It needs to be pulled in to around a 1/4 of a square-mile to make it can really activate a city street life scene.

The question was asked about Lenoir-Rhyne's pedestrian activity and why that would be excluded? Mr. Grimes stated that a lot of L-R is already excluded from the pedestrian overlay. If you take a look at L-R intersection (where Main avenue meets Highland avenue and L-R Boulevard near the new overpass), then you see the current eastern most component of this pedestrian overlay. What this district tells us to do is make sure that everything that develops has that downtown type of feel to it and and it is not realistic.

The question was then asked if it has been considered that many of the buildings are functionally obsolete and need to be demolished? Mr. Grimes answered that that has been taken into consideration. What they are looking at when it comes to the pedestrian district is that there might be other choices. It doesn't necessarily mean that it is going to mean that it is a pedestrian unfriendly environment. The comment was made that if you run it to the edge of the SALT block, then you exclude the SALT block. Mr. Grimes said that the proposal is a draft and this will be talked about.

Mr. Grimes says it is implemented now by mandating a building type. There are a lot of ways that this can be achieved without mandating a building type. If we want pedestrians to be able to more easily and more safely access the core, then we can do it in other ways than by mandating that everything have the same type of storefront. Mr. Grimes stated L-R's pedestrian campus style does need to also be compatible with being able to walk the city's center for access to activity's entertainment. To do this we must deal with the streetscape on Hwy 127 and some of the other areas that feed into the center city.

We have to understand that there is a lot of investment in these corridors. By mandating massive changes in the zoning structure, we are going to be impacting people's property rights and impact the level of investment there. We are trying to strike a balance, so that we can still accommodate what has been going on as far as investing in the corridors, while at the same time helping the centers to activate.

The question was asked, How did the original HBC treat these corridors? The corridors were not addressed by the original HBC. That is one of the major reasons why this update is being undertaken right now. The corridors are a very powerful economic and notable land use aspect component of the community.

The question was asked, wasn't the original HBC designed to eliminate strip mall development (inferred to be corridor development) and ensure the development of the node development concept. If we are going to protect the corridor development, aren't we going to institutionalize strip mall development? Mr. Grimes said that it is more than strip mall development. It is repetitive strip mall development. There is an opportunity in the corridors for vacant nuildings to go unused. Tenants find a newer building, a better building, that is not obsolete along the same corridor without having to go into a center. One of the things that they are trying to do is find a way not to institutionalize the permanence of that type of disposability along the corridors.

I asked why this development along the corridors has happened this way and why developments aren't going into the city centers? Mr. Grimes answered: When you look at real estate development patterns. the automobile has a huge impact on that development, whether it is the overall spread of residential land or it is the evolution of land along the corridors from one time residential or agricultural use to industrial or commercial. The original HBC was intended to promote walkability. If we get into the habit of walking by centralizing services as much as possible, then we may still be using the corridors to commute to where we work, but some of our daily business will be able to be done on foot or by a bicycle.

This new plan is meant to hedge that. The corridor and land development patterns, that go along with that high traffic volume, will still persist to a certain extent. There will be a strong economic push to commercially develop that land. Not many people really want to live along these high intensity corridors. But, they are trying to find ways to activate the centers so that they provide an attractive alternative. That way people will be using those corridors less frequently for their daily needs.

I asked if this doesn't come down to an economics issue? Yes, it is an economics issue. It is also a regulatory issue. In Spokane, when gas prices went to $4.50/gallon then they saw a massive decrease in automobile driving and a huge increase in transit ridership. He believes that we might not be that far from a tipping point where these centers and a more urban lifestyle becoming more attractive for a number of reasons. It was also added that the original HBC wasn't only about pedestrian travel. It was about shortening car trips.

An interjection was made about the overpass development at L-R. The sidewalks are a little larger than standard. How do we get double sidewalks when the State DOT says that we can't have them because this is their project and this is what they are doing? Brian Frazier answered that this comes down to a private property issues in terms of right-of-way. The big issue is money. Who is going to pay for it? For years it has been talked about what other communities have done with medians. They don't have concrete. They have grass and plants in their medians. It isn't that the State won't let you do it. They will, but the city has to pay for it and that has been a big problem. It is a money issue. The money to put them in and the money to maintain them.

The gentleman asked, we are pushing walkability aren't we. Mr. Grimes stated yes, but we must think about walkability as an opportunity to travel safely from one place to another, which is basically how we deal with that right-of-way. The gentleman, who asked the question, further stated that if we have narrow sidewalks then he isn't going to use the sidewalks, because then there are too many people on the sidewalk. Mr. Grimes said that is important, but we must manage the right-of-way in such a way that we can populate those areas. This would help to demonstrate and display an increase in demand that would show the State that we do need to incorporate more sidewalks in these areas.

Onto the Workshop, we had color coded maps on each table that displayed the characteristics and uses of the corridors. Studio cascade will have the sourcebook that we utilized up in the next few days.

Basically the Development Type codes were broken down into six forms:

1) Urban center - Red : Central business Districts, places of commerce, financial services, and government centers. Features include multi-story buildings, professional offices, groundfloor storefronts, public transit, parking structures, retail, entertainment, and dining. Examples Cited - Union square, First Baptist Church, City Hall.

2) Urban corridor - Orange : Place of transition. Lots of traffic and benefit from being close to the urban center. Higher density residential that can be built right to the street edge. Professional offices and smaller scale storefronts contribute to and benefit from foot traffic on the sidewalks. Streetscape is alive and active. Examples Cited - The SALT Block, First Presbyterian church, Panera Bread and that complex.

3) Neighborhood Mixed-Use - Yellow: permits a mix of retail and service establishments such as groceries, pharmacies, lundry/dry cleaners, restaurants, and higher intensity residential uses, such as apartments and townhouses. Examples Cited - Corinth, Viewmont Square

4) Revitalization - Green: Focus on converting obsolete buildings into more modern uses, such as professional offices, storefront retail, or residential flats. There may be a necessary amount of cleanup before the areas can be made available to new tenants. Examples Cited - The water department, Piedmont Wagon, Zagaroli Construction, Huffman Hosiery, The Charlotte Observer building

5) Suburban Corridor - Purple: Caters to automobile drivers. Parking lots front the streets to provide convenient access to retail, professional offices, and dining establishments. These businesses often accommodate drive-thru service. Examples Cited - Corinth, Pleasers, The old Superior cable building,

6) Suburban center - Blue: Feature a grocery store or other anchor tenant, with other retail storefronts attached to it. Many include restaurants located on pads near the street with large parking access to accommodate the maximum expected number of customers serving the entire project. Lowe's Home Improvement on Hwy 127, Lowe's Grocery on 29th ave NE, Carolina Orthopedic, Viewmont Pharmacy, Hickory High School

We were split into groups to see to look at the provided map. On the map, Studio Cascade colored the areas that they felt constituted the above Development Types and Zones. We were to see whether our group agreed with their placement of the particular Development Types and Zones and give our thoughts about how we would coordinate them.

In our table's outside of the box discussion, the people at the table believed that the corridor issue is an issue of car travel and following the path of least resistance. I also believe this to a degree, but personally I believe that it is a combination issue that is centered around economics. The developers have found they have all of this traffic volume along the corridors and the price of the property along a corridor is cheaper than it will be in a concentric layer that will have to deal with issues of parking, mobility, and escalating real estate values in that core.

You see these cores will be owned by individuals who have a monopolistic hold on those areas. You will pay their price or you won't do business. Under the current zoning requirements, a developer has more options. These core areas will tend to limit those options if not done right. That is a key reason, in my opinion, that this core concept has not worked. Developers need options and people desire more choices when utilizing services.

Patrick Berry says that owners have no incentive and are not driven to make properties more of what they need to be. I agree with that. We do need to encourage owners to create excellent properties.

Harry Hipps says the problem he sees is that if it is people's private property and they want to upgrade from residential to commercial, it can be perceived as more valuable. With this plan what if it is determined that the city is going move you from commercial to residential. Are they going to use Imminent Domain and enforce this? I asked about the issue of a grocery store being located in a certain core. What if I am a resident and I like Harris-Teeter, but there is only a Food Lion in my core. I'm going to drive to Harris-Teeter. Or what if Harris-Teeter is already in my core, but Whole Foods wants to put a store there also. Is the city going to tell Whole Foods that they are late to the party and can't locate there? I just hope that common sense flexibility will be built into this process.

The exercise: What this exercise seems to be is that we are utilizing this map to try and transition to what we want to see in the next 20 years. It was agreed amongst our group that Union Square is an Urban Center. We also looked at the blocks on the map that are south of the tracks that are deemed Revitalization and agreed unanimously that they should be labeled and developed as an Urban Center, which would consolidate the area of that is Union Square into one solid area. This area include the post office, the Hickory Station, Market on Main, the Transit System station, The Jackson Group, and all of the properties in this area over to at least 2nd ave SE and SW. Patrick said that the concept of ending one way streets, that has been applied to parts of downtown, should be incorporated into this south Hickory. that would have a direct impact on this area.

The next area that we looked at was the Old Lenoir road area section. We agree that it is a revitalization area. I spoke to the need to move away from heavy industrial truck and freight traffic in this area. The businesses are going out of business on Old-70. Truck and freight access should be using Hwy 321 to the greatest extent possible. This area needs to move towards residential, because of the nice neighborhoods that are located in close proximity to the area. Look at the residential areas near Holy Trinity church and the nice houses along 2nd and 3rd ave NW. Some of the old warehouse buildings along Old-70 could be used as incubators for start-up businesses. The city could foster this with revitalization tax breaks for developers to move in this direction and tax breaks should also be afforded to those incubator businesses. Think of the possibilities along that rail line as we head to the future.

The next area that we looked at was Hwy 321 from the Hwy 70 intersection to the the Corning building. This area was listed as a revitalization area and we staunchly disagreed with this premise. This area has a ton of viable businesses located on or around it. We labeled this area as a Suburban Corridor. Sure there are parts of the area that could be spruced up, but couldn't we say that about some property in every area of Hickory?

Next, Hwy 70 from Hwy 127 to hwy 321 was listed as a revitalization area. We agreed with that. We had fun with it, trying to determine if Napalming this area would be fair or simply plowsharing it back into agricultural farmland. In all seriousness, this area along with Mainstreet, 1st and 2nd ave SW and SE need to be the two biggest priorities in this city. The Hound has filmed these areas and those videos are available on Youtube. Please go take a look at these videos and tell me that these are not top 5 issues in this city's governance.

Looking down Hwy 127n headed towards Viewmont, we established that part of this area needs to be incorporated into an Urban Center. The character of 127 changes from block to block. Back towards downtown it is definitely more urban. Up towards Harris-Teeter (North Pointe Shopping Center) it is a lot more of a corridor. Right now the area at the SALT block is a transitional Urban Corridor, but at a point in time in the future it really does need to meld into downtown. We put a red and orange circle in those areas. The area across the street from L-R is definitely a revitalization area from WHKY all the way up Highland Avenue where the old mills were.

Further up Hwy 127, we agreed that it is definitely an Urban Corridor area. Our group would prefer that Lowe's Home Improvement not be a considered Mixed-Use. Basically it should be listed as a Suburban Center along with the new Lowe's Grocery that is coming soon. As much as some political factions hate it, this area is naturally becoming what HBC initially intended with the Core concept. It just hasn't happened the way some decision makers wanted it to happen.

Moving up Hwy 127, we also agreed that the area around the old Someplace Else and Clark Tire should be Neighborhood Mixed-Use and we would like to see more of this type of development occurring along this corridor all the way up 127. We also agreed with the map that North Pointe Shopping Center is definitely a Suburban Core. We don't know about the proposed bridge across Huffman Cove into Caldwell County, but we truly do believe that 29th is going to get 4 laned to McDonald Parkway during stages of this plans implementation. So that core at Harris-Teeter is going to be vital.

And this was as far as we got. Mr. Grimes asked a few of the groups to share. The first group that presented for the most part agreed, but they wanted part of 127n changed to purple. They believe that some of the buildings and architecture need to be made sense of. Around Harris-Teeter they want to see more mixed use. They mentioned public plazas, open spaces, public art, a park, and bike paths. The area north of harris-Teeter just dies and people don't feel like coming down here (closer to town). There needs to be more activity in this part of the town. (The Hound suggests that these people look at the proposed Cloninger Mill Park. I think that is what they are looking for). This group also talked about the entrances into the city and how the people look at Hickory when they get their first view, it is confusing and not aesthetically pleasing. It needs to be worked on.

The second group said that they do agree with everything the first group said. They first discussed Downtown and stated that it should not end at the Railroad tracks. Until you go a couple of blocks across the tracks it will never grow, it will never energize itself. They would like to see some more of that Urban Core extend there. They identified alot of areas of revitalization, they believe the entry ways into Hickory are largely unattractive. 4th street SW has done a wonderful job of redefining itself, but the other areas need something. Hwy 127 needs some traffic calming and a reduction of driveways directly onto the street. They agree with the first group about North Viewmont. They want to see the intersection of McDonald Parkway and Spring's Road and the old St Stephen's property development done properly. They deserve as much consideration as anyone else in the area. Hwy 70 SW needs to be revitalized. It is a suburban corridor. It has been in decline for way too long. They need to get rid of the crack motels that are just a blight to the area. they are a blight to the entrance of Hickory and they are a barrier to development that may be looking to upgrade that area.

Our group made the next presentation. Patrick talked about our issues of Downtown and creating walkability. We agreed with the other groups about the Urban Center concept for the south side of the tracks. Patrick interjected that we don't build things downtown that would make them want to live downtown. He stated that he would like to see a grocery store would be great in Zagaroli's revitalization area near downtown. A walking area to L-R would also be nice. He spoke about our issues on 127. Urban corridor to mixed use to suburban core and pulling residential all the way up to Hwy 127. He also talked about our concept of Old Lenoir road. Comic Relief was to turn the Catawba Mall area into Farmland.

The fourth group started out by saying the Kool-Park - Spring's Road area needs to be an Suburban Center. This was where the big battle was, where the residents didn't want WalMart. These residential sensitivities can't be ignored. the old St. Stephens property needs to be turned into a Suburban Center. The Highland avenue one way streets should be made two way. The area is a revitalization area that should be intended for mixed-use. This can develop out of and should be associated with L-R along the Railroad. The Tate - LR Boulevard intersection will be a beautiful entrance into the city. It should be mixed use in the future. With town houses and pedestrian areas. They also believe the area south of the tracks need to be incorporated into the urban center. They had mixed opinions about what should be done on Hwy 127 in Viewmont. The 4th street corridor isn't addressed on this map. They believe great strides have been made in this area.

The fifth group talked about how Hickory's streets are haphazardly developed. They also stated that some of Hickory's newer buildings don't match the historical character of the area. they would also like to see more reusing of the old warehouse structures in the area.

The last group stated that tghey had a few different thoughts. What they did was stated to be a little more along the technical definitions. The southern end of L-R boulevard isn't revitalization. they changed it to Suburban Corridor, south of Texas Roadhouse. north of there they agree that it is revitalization, but it should extend across up highland avenue. They feel that tate boulevard should be addressed. At the end of Old Lenoir Road, they believe that it should be changed from Suburban Core to Suburban Corridor, because there is a lot of traffic that flows through there, that goes to Granite Falls. Hwy 127n they changed to Urban Corridor all the way up.

Mr. Grimes stated that they would be using these maps to create a draft building map to reflect some of these things and what they have learned through the process. January's workshop will discuss residential and industrial designations.

The issue of one way streets was brought up and how they make it difficult for newcomers to get around and figure out the traffic patterns in the city. Mr. Grimes says that this is definitely an influence to the way that private property develops. This comprehensive planning perspective looks at land use, looks at transportation, looks at housing, looks at economic development, looks at the environment and a number of characteristics and hopefully it will knit together into as policy environment that makes a lot sense.

When they look at individual zoning classifications, rules, and standards; they are trying to marry those to an overarching policy environment that helps to advance the whole cause.

The Hound says whew, lot of info there. I was surprisingly pleased to hear the thoughts of the people at this meeting. There were a lot of outside of the box suggestions in my opinion that I truly believe can carry this city forward. My table thought that we were going to be the only table with double-dots, but most of the tables ended up going in that direction. Also, people were looking at this issue in the context of what we want to see in 2030, instead of thinking about what the zoning should be now.

Yes, who knows where this area, State, or Country will be next year, much less 20 years from now; but it is a lot better to adapt with a plan than to just wing it. This process in the end will be a compromise and as long as we think about this as a legacy issue, then we will be alright. If we look at this as an issue of personal interests or aggrandizement, then it will surely fail.

I truly believe that we need to look at the transportation issue when it comes to all of this. We can't get stuck with only looking from a perspective of cars and walking. As I have stated before, The bottom line of this plan should be based upon transportation or moving around this city. That will go a long way towards increasing the quality of life, especially when we are still so vulnerable to fuel prices. That opens up the choices, that builds connections, and that leads us to what will be a necessity in the future. If this is truly going to be a comprehensive plan, then it must include transportation.

We have to come to the realization that this process will not be perfect. Look at the development of the corridors, when this Core concept was the desire. Look at the unintended consequences that were enabled. We have to look to the future and balance it with where we are today. I don't really think that the original HBC put enough emphasis on how we get to the Core concept. It was just "here is the concept" and there was no plan or route to get there. And a lot of the attitude has been, I don't care how you make it happen, just make it happen. That type of dictatorial process never works in the long run. If we want this thing to work, then we must get buy-in from the public at-large.

Hickory By Choice 2030 Workshop: 3rd Meeting - (Unable to attend this meeting)
Hickory By Choice 2030 Workshop: 2nd Meeting

Why the original Hickory By Choice doesn't work
Hickory By Choice 2030 Workshop: 1st Meeting
Studio Cascade awarded contract at November 4, 2008 City Council meeting

Hickory City Council Election 2009 + WHKY presentations and HYP Forum to be held at the Chamber of Commerce on 10/29/2009

This past week the candidates from Ward 4 and Ward 6 were on the First Talk radio show with Hal Row to answer a series of questions about their views on City Council governance. The links to the audio of those segments are below. Also, there will be a "Hickory City Council Candidates' Forum" on Thursday, October 29 at 6:30pm to be held at the Chamber of Commerce (off of Highway 70 behind the Gateway Center).

The Hickory Young Professionals are hosting this Forum to give each of the 4 candidates an opportunity to answer questions and hear feedback from their potential constituents before the election. The forum is FREE and open to the public, but seating is limited, so be there early!

For each of the contested seats, the two incumbent candidates are being challenged by one other candidate. The candidates running for these seats, and to be present at the forum are as follows:

Z. Ann Hoyle is the incumbent in Ward 4. She is from the Ridgeview area and is a strong supporter and advocate for the African-American community. She has served on the city council since 1990. Audio Download link to Ms. Hoyle's appearance on Hal Row's Show.

Hank Guess is the challenger in Ward 4. He is a Retired former Police Captain with the City of Hickory. He resides in the Mountain View area. Audio Download link to Mr. Guess's appearance on Hal Row's Show.

Jill Patton is the incumbent in Ward 6. She lives in Northwest Hickory. She is the Vice-President of DeFeet Hosiery in Hildebran. Mrs. Patton has served on the council since 2005. Audio link to Mrs. Patton's appearance on Hal Row's Show.

Harry Hipps is the challenger in Ward 6. He is from Newton and a lifelong resident of Catawba County. He has been a resident in Hickory since 1998 and manages the Pretzel Time store in the Valley Hills Mall. Audio Link to Mr. Hipp's appearance on Hal Row's Show.

I Hope that you will all listen to the audio above and attend this forum on Thursday. It is important that the people of this community begin to participate in the political process. Hal's show and this forum were put together to allow you to have more information, so that you might have a better understanding of where the candidates stand on the issues and so that you might be able to make a more informed decision come next Tuesday, November 3rd.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Fixing Hickory - Narrowing Our Focus Economic Stimulus Package for Catawba County Finalized (The Finale)

This was the final session of the Intra-City visit. This Focus Group was facilitated by Alan Jackson who is the President of the Jackson Group. This was a two hour meeting with a lot of information. Sorry it is so long, but all of this information leads to the understanding and wrap-up of what has and was brought forward and discussed about how to get us out of our current economic predicament.

Alan started out the session by saying that our personal connections to this area are important to think about when we frame our discussions on this. Alan was born in Albemarle, but his parents moved here when he was 3 months old. His parents came here to attend Lenoir-Rhyne. His father worked for MDI, before starting his own business, which was AK Jackson and Associates established in 1976. It was located in the Viewmont Professional building.

The Jackson Group is a family run business and it has never been headquartered anywhere outside of this area. Alan spoke about his family's connections to L-R. Alan is a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill. He says he didn't come back here because he wanted to live in Hickory. He came back because there was an easy job to get started with in the family business. He thought it would be a temporary move. He planned on being here for a year and then moving to Hollywood and then that got changed and then he wanted to do something else. It was 3 or 4 years after moving back here that he decided to stay. He decided he was happy here, but his first thought coming out of college was not that he wanted to live in Hickory. Alan has been courted to leave the area for other opportunities, but he said he has no intentions of leaving the area now.

The question that Alan posed is how do we get the people that do go off to college to want to come back? Alan believes he is a poster child for what had been discussed over the three days. He has been touched by every aspect of what has been discussed, whether it be education, business, and/or government.

We all have a lot of personal investment in how this area performs or we wouldn't have attended this conference. The questions posed should help determine our top priorities and what we should focus our energy on. Looking at the business community, they have been a tough group to get engaged on the issues that face this community. What initiatives that we have heard are the easiest ones to grab ahold of and push through? All the initiatives we have talked about are extremely important, but we need to focus on the ones that are tangible that we can do something about.

Alan stated his number one profession is that he does surveys. He is a "Data Guy." He loves looking at research, and surveying data and responses and finding out what people are thinking about things. Alan passed out some remote control devices, which allowed for multiple choice responses on a variety of questions. He stated that this was an excellent way to get people involved without having a few people take over the direction of the discussion process.

Alan showed a clip from the movie Network and 14 people answered the question correctly out of 32 people. The other questions that would be asked would not have right or wrong answers, but they would help get some dialogue started.

Once again Alan stated that all of the discussions we held were incredibly important and they all would be moving forward, he added that this is about priorities. If we have one thing to put all of our energy behind, which one would it be?

The choices for the first question were "What should be the top priority" 1) Education Matters/ Work keys/ Career Readiness Certification 2) The ASU Partnership 3) The Development of new Manufacturing Solutions partnering with NC State's Centennial Campus 4) The marketing, populations growth, relocation strategy 5) Economic Development Corporation Strategies 6) Other ... The answers were pretty evenly split amongst the categories all of the categories except for Education Matters and Other.

Which of the items above would be the most beneficial to the individuals personally? The marketing, populations growth, relocation strategy stood out more than the other categories. Alan opened up the floor for comments. No one else spoke up, so I decided to. I stated that I believed that the in migration would bring more creative individuals into our economy. We have the status quo going on here right now and we would maybe see some fresh ideas. A lot of people I have talked to, who have relocated here, offer a different context from what I have heard from the local citizenry that have been here for a while. Alan asked if I thought I could personally see a benefit from having an influx of new people coming into this area and bringing new ideas, new opportunities, and new customers? John Bates stated that this would have a quicker effect on retail sales and real estate sales.

The ASU partnership and the EDC strategies also received significant votes. Alan stated that some of these could be feeders into the other categories. Kitty Barnes stated that the marketing strategy was the low hanging fruit and that it would be the quickest, easiest thing to do. It is the least expensive route to take and would have a long term impact. It was also stated that if we are going to move towards this strategy, then it is important that we establish a brand identity for the area. Alan stated that he chose marketing and relocation both times (So did I). He stated that the reason is that Marketing and Relocation have the best chance of effecting all the rest. The rest will effect a smaller segment or take longer to have a more dramatic effect.

Barbara Beatty and Terry Bledsoe talked about the County Government's utilization of Facebook. Terry stated that there are a lot of people from outside the area, who have had a connection with Catawba County in the past, and they have a thirst for information about this area. Barbara broached the idea of being able to target the people from the area that have left to go to college (or whatever) and using connections to announce new opportunities and possibilities in the area. This might help bring some of these people back. She talked about how she was originally from here and she didn't think she would end up back here. She stated it was bizarre how she ended up back in Catawba County.

Another thought was that we needed to create the opportunities first, because no one is going to come here, no matter how great we tell them the area is, if those opportunities don't exist. Steve Ivester said he pressed other both times, because we need to look at things from a regional perspective. There are a lot of opportunities here, but they haven't been promoted. If we inventory the opportunities and assets and create brands based on those inventories, and do this across our region ... we have stuff to sell, we just aren't selling it very effectively.

Terry Bledsoe talked about Broadband not being on the list and we are lacking that infrastructure that is crucial to the future. Even grandparents, moving in here, are going to want to be able to be have a connection with their kids and grandkids. There is a level of priority (need) there in relation to some of these other things. Alan stated that it is going to be hard to market and get some of these younger college graduates to come back here if the broadband connection is not as universal as it need to be. Terry answered, "as universal and as high of bandwidth speed as they need." The companies that want to be associated with Apple and Google are not going to be satisfied with 3 and 5 megabits (what is currently offered in our area). If we want to attract these industries here, then we are going to have to offer higher service levels to the home and communities.

Another issue came up about how do we get that 18-45 demographic segment involved in this conversation. What do we need to be doing as a community to market better and bring those individuals back after they finish college. These are the creative workers. How do we get them to the table? How do we get their ideas? how do we get them excited about contributing to this process? If we look around the table and ask who is missing, that is a segment that is missing from this conversation today?

Alan's next question was - What one demographic should we focus on marketing to? 1) Students 2) Young Professionals 3) Married/ with Children (Young families) 4) Established Workforce (Transfers) 5) Retirees 6) Other

Extrapolating the percentages, Young Professionals received 15 votes, Married/ with Children (Young families) received 7 votes, Established Workforce (Transfers) received 5 votes, Retirees received 3 votes, and Students received 1 votes.

Some of the thoughts were that Young professionals bring unlimited potential. They are a starting point for the other groups. They will bring in new businesses and start-ups. They want to be involved and engaged. Alan pontificated, if we are looking for job growth in this area, then (young professionals) are a good pot of potential in utilizing our marketing plan.

Scott Millar stated that he thinks that Young Professionals is the most valuable, but Married couples is the most likely. Mick Berry stated that he was still in the mindset of low hanging fruit. When you look at the barriers of entry on categories 2 and 3 they are huge. You have to have a job. You come looking for a job and well we are trying to do the job piece. We've already got that part we are working hard on. You don't come out and say, "Well, come to Hickory, because we have nice restaurants or broadband wireless. That's just unrealistic. You come here when you are young because you have a job. Someone is going to pay you to do a job, while you are here." He states that the retirees are the low hanging fruit. We already have a ton of infrastructure that they already want. We have fantastic golf courses, two hospitals, state of the art heart hospital and program at Frye, the symphony, and all of these great resources for a relatively small community. That is where you get the most bang for your buck.

Jill Patton said retirees also, because it is very low hanging fruit and we do have all of the things. Retirees have the money and they are going to be here and they are looking for what Hickory has to offer and what makes us unique. They bring a lot of wealth and stability and they do not negatively impact the school systems. John Bates says that it creates a multiplier effect by bringing in medical professional people and sales people that would serve them. Young Professional couples have a big school impact.

Terry Bledsoe said that he voted for young professionals, because if you look at all of the groups, that is the highest maintenance group up there. You can bring them here, but you are going to have to have the opportunities and so forth to keep them here. We will be looking to move them from number 2 to 3 somewhere along the line. They are the most unstable group, because they are looking for opportunity. But, they are probably the group that can bring in the most creativity and innovation into this area. Low hanging fruit is one thing, but what are we targeting here? Are we targeting low hanging fruit or are we targeting building for the future and building a resilient economy?

Alan asked, if we do nothing marketing wise to promote this area to the retiring population, do we feel like the retiring population will still grow regardless? I answered yes, because of the baby boomer bubble. If you also market to that demographic, then you are going to exacerbate that. That is the reason why you see a 23 to 1 ratio of the older than 45 generation versus the 44 and under demographic. We have already successfully marketed to that group.

Alan says this is quite a philosophical discussion looking at what an individual personally wants versus an economic standpoint versus an ease and quickness of what we can do. You will get several different answers from several different people. Jill Patton said it comes back to the fact that we want balance. the comment was made that Asheville has done a great job of marketing to both Young Professionals and Retirees.

What would help attract Young professionals? Jane Everson said we already have local college graduates that we need to develop opportunities for so that they can stay in the area. We don't need to just focus on the young people that have gone away. Steve Ivester talked about how a professor at L-R stated to him that her students were out of here if there weren't internships and opportunities made available to them.

I asked if in a lot of cases 2 and 3 don't go together? Alan made a joke about me taking apart his survey process. He said that technically 2, 3, and 4 could be put together. When you boil it down there are really only 3 groups.

Jane Everson brought up internships and funding for start-ups - Microlending (something we have talked about with the Future Economy Council). Alan interjected that maybe we need to motivate the local business community to maybe step up more and take more aggressive stances towards internships. Jill Patton said that Education matters can be used as a tool to help facilitate this. Alan agrees that this could be a way to socially connect young people to this community.

Nancy Yount said what was also stated by another participant, that there needs to be a much more concerted effort between the business community, L-R, ASU, and the graduates; because in order to keep those students here we are going to have to have jobs. We need to bring the companies in and ask them what kind of students are you looking for and willing to provide internships for?

Alan was asked if local businesses were offering internships to the local institutes of Higher Learning and then he was asked if his business offers internships. He stated that they do have interns, but they have not proactively sought interns from the local colleges. It was stated by some people that the colleges aren't doing a good job with this, because they have offered to take on interns, but they never heard from the colleges. Alan said maybe they don't currently have the networks set up to facilitate this process.

Bebe Leitch talked about the Quality of Life - geographical location, climate, recreation, parks, affordable housing and that we sort of take all that for granted. Alan said that needs to be heard and all of that stuff is important, but we have to have jobs. Young Professionals aren't going to come here, even for quality of life and social/community involvement, if there are no job opportunities. We are in a quandary. We can market all we want, but we have to have jobs.

Alan then asked about what people thought about trying to bring in entrepreneurs?
How much opportunity is there for single person enterprises that might be working out of their home? That is how Google and Apple started. These were creative people in a community that supported them with a good business environment that allowed them to explore their ideas. We are in a global economy and a connected economy. You can work from anywhere. What is stopping us from cultivating that kind of an environment. When he hears Young Professionals, he thinks of those already involved in the local workplace and those that might be willing to do some things on their own.

Alan talked about the possibilities of creating incentives and benefits for young entrepreneurs. That might give us a marketing edge. This could help us develop the area with a brand of being innovative. It is risky, but there is a lot of opportunity there. Dan St. Louis talked about hundreds of entrepreneurs with new ideas and the money issue is the number one issue. If we can create incentives and an ability to get money, then they will come to the area.

Kitty Barnes talked about a program in Indianapolis called Brain Gain, where they focused on attracting young professionals. They had a whole package of incentives to try to attract these people. Alan said it that this type of energy would be very newsworthy. Nathan Huret talked about what is going on in Detroit and how they are creating whole industries around industrial revitalization and recycling old buildings to reclaim raw materials.

I brought up the subject of our local philanthropic interests, because of Alan's interjection of the idea of start-ups. Our Philanthropic interests are focusing on survival and I think we need to start thinking about revival. Maybe people think this is an impossible thing to do, because we have adapted down, but we need to start growing again.

Alan asked where do we go from here? Jill Patton said the municipalities need to come together with money and think "Regionalism." Alan reiterated, who needs to take the lead and run with this? Steve Ivester stated that he believes the Western Piedmont Council of Governments is the only agency that scopes across the entire region. Kitty Barnes said she just doesn't see the WPCOG taking on that role as a marketing organization.

What can businesses do to make these things happen? Alan stated get more and more businesses involved in Education Matters. Nathan Huret says that we need Champions that will stand behind these efforts and say, "This would be great for my company."

I added: A mentorship role, sending company representatives into the school and teaching kids why science is important and showing them examples of how their company utilizes science. I'm not just saying science. Whatever that company represents, they need to get into the schools and show the students how it is to their benefit to continue their education. The attainment opportunities that would be created there and the amount of money they can make and everything that is involved in these businesses and how that can enhance their quality of life. Then maybe they wouldn't be so lost and feel like, "Why am I taking this Algebra class?" When I was in school, people asked that.

David Moore said that the schools are putting it out there, but he doesn't have the time to go find out what they need. If they will call, then he will be there. If schools come to him and say they need help with internships, then he will find them a place -- even if he doesn't need them. Steve Ivester talked about the need for tuition reimbursement to enhance lifelong education.

Barbara Beatty talked about the people that are 45 to 65, who may not be well educated. What are we going to do to get these people back to work? We're going to require people to take a test, but some of them, who didn't get through school, may not be able to read and write, but they are good workers. Requiring them to take a test is not going to get them back to work.

What can the Business community do to encourage the ASU partnership? Businesses need to encourage enrollment, tuition reimbursement, special programs, and short courses. Course schedule flexibility is important to working people. Jane Everson stated that she has met and is going to meet with local businesses and discuss opportunities. Faculty don't always have the community knowledge to be able to identify businesses that might be appropriate for internships

Alan stated that success will be judged by filling the seats. Steve Ivester brought up the comments that the Boone Campus doesn't have a technical R&D focus. We have also been told that we (Hickory) needs to tell them (ASU) what we need. Boone does not have a technical demand, but we in Hickory do have that demand. Maybe the Hickory campus can be redirected towards the technical and R&D sorts of things that would support a millennial campus.

Alan stated we have to push the understanding that this is ASU programming, not second tier. He stated, as the business community, we have to be supportive of it. His business does reimburse tuition and encourage education. It is a gamble, because that employee might leave, but most of the time they won't and they will be better employees. His company does this, because it is good for the community.

Kitty Barnes stated that it is a problem that we are stating that we want higher technology, but we aren't ingraining in our high school students their need to take science courses. There are a low number of physics majors in our community. We need to encourage students to want to achieve in the math and science fields. Garrett Hinshaw talked about the STEM program that develops children from Kindergarten through High School and works on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math programs.

What can the business community do to encourage the development of the manufacturing Solutions Center and the possibility of a Millennial campus. What can we do to foster this type of environment in our back yard? I stated that the whole focus of the Centennial Campus is about the Public-Private partnership and the collaboration between government and private business. Private business (there) is looking at the education of those individuals as an investment, just like in materials or equipment. Dan St. Louis said that we need a presence down on that campus or we will end up lost, because of all that is going on down there. John Bates stated that there is a big information-education component that needs to be applied to the business community in this area.

Alan asked Dan (Hypothetically) how what he is doing, and what is happening at the Centennial Campus, would affect the Jackson Group? and have an impact on business in the area. Dan said what he does is all about building connections and creating an incubator. Just by talking, and finding out what businesses do, he can put business interests together working towards a common goal. John Bates talked about how the people at the Centennial Campus stated that this happens all the time at the coffee shop on the Centennial Campus.

Dan talked about a connection he made with MDI, where at first he didn't know why they had come to the Solutions Center. Two hours later they (the Solutions Center) were using them for exporting and they were sending other business to them. He laughed and said if he had known this, he should (would) have called on them ten years ago.

Basically it was summarized that you can sell these processes if you tangibly show people how they can benefit from the services. The key issues are networking, awareness, and visibility. Scott Millar talked about ASU and the Research Institute on Energy and Environment. Maybe we could have some tie-in with that and the Green Initiative that we have and the Millennial Campus. He also talked about the Charlotte Research Institute on the campus of UNC-Charlotte. If you visit there, you will realize how impactful these facilities can be and it is closer than the Centennial Campus.

Garrett Hinshaw stated that businesses need to understand that we still have a large manufacturing capability here. We need to start focusing on some of the research that has been done. We have great facilities and technology, and local industry is going to have to start buying into that and start manufacturing some of these items.

David Moore talked about local businesses looking at what they do and finding out what they can purchase locally to save money and benefit local industries. An example was cited of a local business lady that had visited the manufacturing Solutions Center the day before and found out she could do just that. I stated that I believe part of that might be the path of least resistance. Maybe for her circumstances it was easier to find that firm in Texas. Maybe we need to break down the barriers that are creating that resistance. I believe that is what David is talking about coordinating. That is where the government can come in ... is to create these relationships between businesses.

Part of what Ramo's book talks about is a process called Mash-Up. The Wii is an example where you take the interactivity of a gaming device and utilize the acceleration piece from a car in the controller. You can be Tiger Woods and swing that controller like a golf club and play golf just like you are actually there. There are Fiber opportunities that can be used in the camouflage of military clothing to help soldiers blend into the environment. There are opportunities there. we just need to break down the barriers of compartmentalization and the idea of an entrepreneurial spirit, of the local area, that protecting property and keeping secrets is ultimately important. I understand why this happens, because people are afraid of losing that advantage, like they have sometimes in the past. If we open up a little more, then we might discover some of those mash-up opportunities.

Dan St. Louis believes that one of the reasons the Lady didn't know about the Solutions Center was because people don't think of them (the Solutions Center) as anything other than a Community College with training. People need to open up the process towards "What If?" What can we do? The Solutions Center creates a lot of things, whatever is needed.

Danny Hearn stated what concerns him is that the Solutions Center is already getting ready to move into a building that is too small. Steve Ivester agreed and stated that it is too small of a space for the potential.

Andrea Surratt talked about the City of Hickory's Small Business Job Growth Team and the need to develop an audience between the interested parties and create a dialogue and get some ideas down. Alan stated that there are a lot of groups that are underrepresented here today. We need to get representation from all of the groups here at one time. What the business community needs is a road map - here are the things to do. Here is what we know needs to be done and here is what the business community can do and here is the value. A lot of people need this road map.

What can the business community do to help the EDC? It was stated that people need to join the "Committee of 100." It is about financial support to help facilitate getting things done. Terry Bledsoe stated that it just comes back to connections again. Only the business community knows what their new products are going to be. Scott is looking for business to bring them here. If he knows exactly what local business needs are, then he can pass it on. If he doesn't know what businesses need, the local businesses will end up buying product (or materials) somewhere else. Barbara Beatty stated that we need to make sure that we are supportive of these local entities efforts. This is about Job Creation.

That was the end of the presentation and 3 days of events that focused on Revitalization Efforts in Catawba county and the Hickory metro region.

The Hound enjoyed this three day process. A lot of these ideas have been out there for some time, but this forum allowed people to lay their cards out on the table and it is high time that we started vetting our ideas out in the public arena to weed through them and see which ones can survive the light of day and which ones need to be rethought.

Personally, I don't like the concept of low hanging fruit. I think it is an intellectually lazy concept. If you are going to foster that metaphor, then you better realize that some of the fruit (opportunity) at the top of the tree is just as ripe as the fruit at the bottom of the tree. Are you going to let it rot, because it might be a little more difficult to get to? Have you ever owned a fruit tree?

No, you don't let fruit(opportunities) go to waste. You figure out (a plan) how to get to that fruit. If you spend time whining and naysaying about how it is just too difficult to get to the fruit, then you aren't going to be able to enjoy all that the tree has to offer.

As a matter of fact, I believe we are focusing so much on the ease of cultivation that we are picking stuff off the ground and harvesting unripened fruit. We are so worried about this easily picked fruit that we aren't thoroughly thinking through the process of what we are doing.

Who do you think plays more golf, Seniors or Young Professionals looking to make business deals? Who do you think buys more homes, Retirees or Young Upwardly Mobile Professionals? Who are the Retirees going to sell their house to when they want to downsize? You do know that a big part of the real estate problem Florida is experiencing is related to the huge disproportion of retirees and the glut caused by them not having a market to sell their houses, because there aren't enough young people to take their places. Now you want to move that failed concept here?

As an owner in the Service Industry, who affords you the most profit potential, seniors winding down or younger people looking for new cultural experiences? Why are we trying to change the concept that Madison Avenue has so successfully utilized for years? They realize that Younger People have more disposable income and spend more money. Why are we trying to reinvent the wheel?

Older people do not always equate to having more money. The real world shows that most seniors are living just above Social Security and reliant on government services such as medicare. What do we do if you disproportionally bring these Seniors in here and the government starts closing off that spigot? Mrs. Patton came to the right conclusion when she stated that we need to look towards balance.

The problem is that statistics show, at the current time, we are not headed in that direction.
I think that the aging of our local population is what has moved us towards the adapting down - winding it down mindset. It seems that all of our local Philanthropic efforts are focusing on survival and I think we need to start thinking about revival. You have all heard the expression about Teaching a man how to fish and feeding him for a lifetime versus feeding a man a fish and meeting his needs for a day.

These are hard times and many of our locals are treading water and just trying to survive, but I will argue that this is increasing the rapidity of our area's economic implosion. We need to find monies to do Micro-Lending and help broaden the Solution Center's capabilities. These are impactful measures that can foster creativity and get people back to work. These are efforts that can change the economic momentum in this area.

I think that if we are willing to all sacrifice some pride and ego, then we can turn things around. I have witnessed a lot of leadership, in my lifetime, that is unknowingly oppressive and can take the Oxygen right out of a room (of creativity) with their naysaying. At a time when many of us are suffering economically, we cannot afford to worry about the mistakes of the past or someone pointing out that we were wrong. We need to face up to where we have made mistakes, admit where we were wrong, address the relevant issues, and move on towards a hopefully better and brighter tomorrow.

We can do this, but we have to shed those old ways. I know that I don't have as much to lose as others, but I believe you have to be willing to lose everything in order to gain everything. How many people can really fathom that concept? Can you fathom that concept?
All is not Lost - Catawba County Intra-City Visit and Economic Revitalization Conference
Building a Relationship with NC State's Centennial campus
Fixing Hickory - The Appalachian State Partnership
Fixing Hickory - Education Matters and Workforce Development
Fixing Hickory - “What Will Catawba County’s Economic Climate and Demographics Look Like in 2020”?
Fixing Hickory - A Demographics and Marketing Discussion Panel

Fixing Hickory - CVCC’s New Manufacturing Solutions Center

Fixing Hickory - Economic Development Corporation’s Programming Strategies presented Scott Millar
Fixing Hickory - The Future Economy Council presented by Terry Bledsoe, Catawba County Communications Director, Chairman

Friday, October 23, 2009

Fixing Hickory - The Future Economy Council presented by Terry Bledsoe, Catawba County Communications Director, Chairman

This presentation was made on October 2, 2009.

Danny Hearn started out by talking about the FEC group of 40 people who are not assigned to come up with a plan from government or the Chamber, to submit anything, or create a plan or anything. What we are is a group of people who are meeting, discussing, and learning about weak signals and future trends and how they might effect the way we educate, learn, the way we do economic development, and the way we govern. To see if we could look at ways to help existing efforts in our community.

From there he introduced Terry Bledsoe. Terry talked about the latest issue of Business Week Magazine. The picture can be flipped vertically . One side says "Why the market will keep going up." If you flip it the other way it says, "Why the market is going nowhere."

Terry stated that he believes this article is reflective of the times we are living in now. We play by a lot of rules that we have know forever. A lot of those rules don't apply anymore. A lot do still apply, but we have to look at them in more detail than we ever did before. that is what the Future Economy Council is looking at. What changes do we need to make, so that we can adapt to all the changes. Apparently, we haven't adapted well since the year 2000.

I order to think about change and understand how we need to change some of our processes. You have to understand where we are at and figure out where things are going. We are going to have to look at the world in a different way before we can sense what we are doing. We've been looking at a book called the Age of the Unthinkable - by Joshua Cooper Ramo. Basically the book states that there are a lot of things we have been looking at for years, and probably correctly, but not in enough detail in understanding all of the complexity of it. Especially with all of the technological advances we see coming forth.

Terry quoted some issues that have come up at the conference. he pointed at a statement made by Kitty Barnes. She said that (in Southeast Catawba County), She didn't know what these people were doing, but their showing up with buckets of mail. Houston Harris stated that he has served on a lot of committees lately and they're all trying to fight the same fight. Andy Wells - We're not growing. We're not letting the world know we exist. JD Ross - We have a horrible Brain Drain. When someone finishes school, their looking for a high paying job. Good area to raise a family. the schools are some of the best. Houston Harris - We're gearing around the things we did 20 years ago. Andy Wells - Fractured marketing. We have different web sites. We want educated people with money. Houston Harris - We want start-ups, better bandwidth, better infrastructure. Incubator and incentives for start-ups. Mooresville is progressive and alive.

When we went to the Manufacturing Solutions Center, the question was asked, "How do you get small manufacturers to move to a higher level?" That is what the FEC is looking at. How do we get the region to move to a higher level?

Dan St. Louis talked about sharing; sharing equipment between agencies and sharing workload. He talked about partnership, connections, cooperation, and opportunities.

We have talked about all of this in the Future Economy Council. It is all recorded on ... This is what we are trying to do. we are trying to build leaders that can actually look out here at the things that are going on and actually pick up on trends and signals and bring those opportunities to Catawba County.

We have all been through leadership training, so what is different? The World is different, is what is different. We have to look at it differently. The group is very diverse and very talented, but we don't know what is going to come out of it, but we are very hopeful of some of the ideas.

We are working with Rick Smyre of the Community's of the Future. People all over the world have utilized Rick's services, but the Catawba County group is one of the first in the world that is looking at what our economy needs to look like in the future and how do we get there. How do we create Economic Resiliency so that economic downturns don't hit us as hard as this one has.

One of the key pieces in this process is the development of Master Capacity Builders. This goes to creating leaders who are able to develop new ways of thinking about the future, identify trends and weak signals, be able to ask appropriate questions, ways to add value, and innovative global systematic connective networking. The FEC is looking to tie all of these things together.

Some of the trends and weak signals we have discussed are: 1) Children are authorities on central innovation, such as the new digital media. An example would be Web 2.0 portals like facebook, myspace, and twitter. How we communicate with people has changed dramatically. 2) Universal connectivity - everyone has the ability to access the internet, but here in Catawba County (Southwest) we still have people who can't get Broadband to their home. 3) Jobs that do not require proximity. There are people that don't work at the office or business; they work out of their home. How do we provide these people the services they need to help facilitate these opportunities? Many of these people draw high salaries. 4) Ubiquitous, unprecedented access to information. What was it like when we couldn't get answers in 5 minutes or less? Can you manage your staff in 140 characters or less? Twitter. 5) What is Apple really up to? Apple's data Center's size is unprecedented throughout the world. How do we take advantage of that?

We have looked at a lot of data and here are some of the discussions we have had: 1) We have looked at Taylor Dellinger's (WPCOG) information and Wilmington, North carolina hasn't suffered the same job losses we have. What did they do to keep from suffering the job losses we have seen. maybe we should look at their economy so that we can compare the two. 2) There have been some very successful creative small businesses that have been developed right here in Catawba County. Restoration hardware is made here, but there isn't anywhere to buy it here, but they utilize skilled labor from right here. We have an Computer Generated Graphic Artist (Michael McNeely) that lives here in Catawba County. He worked on the film, Pirates of the Caribbean. He is a member of the FEC. 3) Software from a company in Newton was used to convict Phil Spector, at his Murder trial, by creating a graphic simulation of the murder scene.

We have a lot of creative industries here that we need to build off of. We need to build off of these opportunities to create more opportunities.

What did Apple like about Catawba County? They like our manufacturing attitude, the culture of Hard Working, and the Quality of Life. We need to use these strengths and make sure that we market off of these strengths.

We have also had a discussion about diversity. In 1999, this area was noted for it's diversity (in the New York Times). We were held up as a model for the new economy. What happened? We ran out of product. We were at full employment, so new industries chose not to come here, because we didn't have people to stock their employment needs. So we couldn't further diversify.

We have also talked about parallel processes. We want Scott Millar out there doing everything he can to bring industries to our area, but we also need to be looking at things that will be coming into the market 20 or 30 years from now -- or processes that might be changing. A lot of what we have done in Catawba County has been the traditional heat, beat, and treat. That is the traditional manufacturing process.

Are we looking at things like Nanotechnology? This is really taking off with radio frequency detectors that can detect body processes for security -- such as in Airports. We need to start looking at manufacturing using natural principles. Mother Nature (Biology) may have a solution that helps destroy germs less dangerously.

How do we provide creative people the tools that they need to enable them to stay in this area and still have customers all over the world. Opening doors of Opportunity can allow one to find new avenues of creativity and it will continue to feed off of itself. An example is the Manufacturing Solutions Center. Their basis was developed for hosiery and they have used a lot of the same tools, information, and processes to start testing other materials with the same equipment.

Rick Smyre's Communities of the Future has brought forth the idea of the Creative Molecular Economy. We have moved through several economic ages. we have been through the Industrial age, the information age, and now we are in the age of Creativity. What if Albert Einstein had been able to communicate with his colleagues all over the World via the internet? What would have happened. The possibilities are limitless.

We need to look at the talents and creative resources we have here and look to see what we are doing to support and encourage those. You might say it is only a few jobs, but how many businesses indigenous to this area started out in a garage or basement that grew to become major businesses in this area.

We have looked at educational attainment. We are ranked last. We have great school systems, so what is happening? We are losing our best and brightest. They are walking right out of the county. Think of the kids in your church, in your social group, your friends, and so forth. Once they have graduated from college, are they living here in Catawba County now? Looking around the room the answer was pretty much no and this is the same as what we have seen at FEC meetings or in other places where this question was asked. How do we create opportunities for these people?

We looked at the 18-44 age demographic and the state is saying that we (Catawba County) will grow by over 15,000 people. Terry stated that he didn't know where the state is getting that, when we have only grown by 45 people in that demographic since the year 2000. It is obvious that we are losing the people in that group. If we lose this educated creative group, then that is a problem.

It has been brought up at FEC meetings before, that there is a huge disparity between the people in the room and the average worker in Catawba County. Terry asked how many people in this room (there were about 32 people) were from Catawba County? There were only 4 of us from Catawba County. Most of the education and incomes are better than the average worker in Catawba County. We have a responsibility to go out there and find solutions to now and the future. We need to build in economic resiliency by becoming leaders who can look towards the future and identify opportunities and little pieces that fit into the world and that we can use in Catawba County. This will make us stronger and that is what the Future Economy Council is all about.

The Hound hopes that Terry's summary of what the FEC is all about will help you understand its mission better. We are a solutions oriented group. Please visit to see everything that has been discussed by the FEC going back to its inception. Also here is a link to Terry's Catawba County Technology Blog - Catawba County CIO Blog.

All is not Lost - Catawba County Intra-City Visit and Economic Revitalization Conference
Building a Relationship with NC State's Centennial campus
Fixing Hickory - The Appalachian State Partnership
Fixing Hickory - Education Matters and Workforce Development
Fixing Hickory - “What Will Catawba County’s Economic Climate and Demographics Look Like in 2020”?
Fixing Hickory - A Demographics and Marketing Discussion Panel

Fixing Hickory - CVCC’s New Manufacturing Solutions Center

Fixing Hickory - Economic Development Corporation’s Programming Strategies presented Scott Millar

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Newsletter about the City Council meeting of October 20, 2009

This newsletter is about the Hickory City Council meeting that I attended this past week. City council meetings are held on the first and third Tuesdays of each Month in the Council Chambers of the Julian Whitener building.

At the bottom right of this page under main information links is a Hickory's Local Government link. If you click on that link, it takes you to our city’s website, at the bottom of the page you will see the future dates for meetings scheduled for this year.

At the top of the page, if you click on the “Documents” link, you will find historic Agenda and Minutes links. Agendas show what is on the docket for the meeting of that date. The Minutes is an actual summary of the proceedings of the meeting of that date.

Here is a summary of the agenda of the 10/21/2009 meeting. There were a couple of important items that were discussed at this meeting and the details are listed further below.

Invocation by Alderman Danny Seaver

Special Presentations:

A. Presentation by Tracy Nester, Vice President of the Hickory Downtown Development
Association Regarding the Success of the 2009 Oktoberfest - Tracy stated that she was very concerned about Octoberfest this year because, the sponsorship money was down $16,000. It was a challenge to obtain these funds, because of the Hard Hit Economy. She stated that they knew this early in the game, so they factored this into the spending on entertainment and marketing. Bottom Line, she believes that the HDDA will profit about the same as they did the year before. They made some changes in security, because of issues with some fights with teenagers. There were confrontations at the intersection of Main ave and 2nd St. What they did was create a totally teen area and pull them away from the synergy of the festival. Moved them down around the banks, where they could be monitored more. The police worked more in zones and all of this went very, very well.

The Hound says thank you to the HDDA for this presentation. Through the challenges we are all facing, you did a great job with more limited resources. You should be commended. It sounds like you are learning from the challenges you are facing and dealing with them in a positive and realistic manner.

B. Presentation by Kelly Gaines, Executive Director of the NC Tennis Association, to award the City of Hickory for its participation in the first “Best Tennis Town USA” contest and receiving an Honorable Mentions Award. Mrs. Gaines introduced Rex Maynard who is the President of the USTA's southern section who made some comments. He stated that the southern section, with 180,000 members, is by far the largest section of the USTA. Mayor Wright came to the podium to receive the award. He stated that no city funds were used for this. Local business donated the money ($2,000) and Hickory won $2,000 worth of equipment. The Mayor also recognized Kathy Kim who he stated has done more for tennis in Hickory than anyone, in any sport, anywhere else.

C. Presentation of the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 2009. Brian Starnes, from Martin Starnes and Associates, came to the podium for the presentation. He stated that they audit 33 counties across the state and around 70 municipalities. Mr. Starnes said that the auditors gave an Unqualified Opinion (clean opinion) of the books. There was one significant deficiency, in collections, which was a weakness in control, which he stated was taken care of quickly. He complemented the finance department saying that they found no errors in the report. The "scoreboard" shows a Total Fund Balance of $16.8 million, Total Reserves of $3.1 million, and an Unreserved Fund Balance of $13.7 million. This is down from last years Unreserved Fund Balance of $14.9 million. Mr. Starnes states that this is expected in the present economic circumstances. Fund balance percentage (Unreserved Balance/Total Budget) is 34% this year and last year it was 38%. This shows that the city has a 4 month supply of money on hand. The Mayor stated that the $2.5 million for Clement Boulevard came out of this number and effected the fund balance.

Mr. Starnes pointed at a few Barometers. Going into 2010, the debt service is $3.589 million. Operations last year show that we had $7.4 million in net cash (to the positive). The Mayor stated that some of these numbers looked favorable in the past, because they have attempted to avoid a big surprise when the new sewer line comes online. The solid waste fund (Garbage Collecction) shows it is costing more than the city is collecting ($900,000 cost versus $800,000 in Fund balance). This Fund will need attention in rate setting. There is no money in recycling now. It costs as much to collect, as what you are earning from it. It will need some attention. The Mayor stated that the big factor in that is the recycling.

The Airport has positive cash flow now. The Mayor states that doesn't include the money earned from property taxes on the aircraft.

Deanna Rios, Hickory’s finance director, next came to the podium. This report is based on activities "government wide." Governmental activities include transportation, public safety, and recreation which rely mostly on taxes. Business activities include water, sewer, and sanitation which rely on fees and charges. Net assets were reported were $191.9 million, which is up $1.7 million over the last year. Fund Balance was over $10.5 million. Revenues for Governmental activities for 2009 were $52 million (the majority of which were Property Taxes) and Business Activity Revenue is $26 million (86% of which is from services). Is the city as a whole better off than last year? Ms. Rios stated that we are holding steady in light of this economy about in the same position as last year. The Mayor asked about Unfunded liabilities. Ms. Rios stated that we have had to change the accounting on health benefits and that amount is around $14 million.

The Hound thinks the city should be commended for its care with city finances. Ms. Rios did not paint a fancy-free picture. She stated what the numbers show that we are holding steady. And this is happening in an economic hurricane. I would love to see what this city could do if we ever turn our economic fortunes around. If we apply these same principles while revenues are growing by 5% or 10%, then we could have a truly wonderful increase in the quality of our lives.

Consent Agenda:
A. Certificate of Sufficiency and Preliminary Resolution Relative to Street Improvements Along a Portion of 12th Street, SW – No. 01-09 (Authorize Public Hearing for November 17, 2009)

B. Proclamation Declaring the Week of October 19 – 25, 2009 as “National Friends of the Library Week” in the City of Hickory

C. Approve Lease Agreement With Jeff Kincaid Insurance for City-Owned Property Located at 16 1st Avenue, NE - Jeff Kincaid Insurance has leased this property from the City for the past thirteen years and wishes to extend their lease, which has expired, for an additional three years at the rate of $1,200 per month which is close to or at market rate. The lessee will be responsible for the maintenance and repairs along with all utilities. Additionally, they will have access to the dumpster adjacent to Hickory City Hall and access to ten parking spaces on the vacant lot adjacent to the leased premises. Expiration of this lease will be three years from the date of Council’s approval.

D. Approval of Citizens’ Advisory Committee Recommendations for Assistance Through the City of Hickory’s Housing Programs - The following applicants are being recommended for approval for assistance under the City of Hickory’s First-Time Homebuyers Assistance Loan Program:
Mee Thao & Yong Vang Chang 1669 Treadwell Lane, SE - Approved for up to $6,500 (Blue Sky Court)
Jennifer Gwaltney 1330 5th Street, NE #65 - Approved for up to $6,500
John Patterson 1246 11th Street, NW - Approved for up to $10,000

Funds are budgeted for the above through the City’s former Rental Rehabilitation Program income received in FY 2008 and/or program income received through the City’s Community Development Block Grant Program.
Zelda Covington of 907 3rd Street Court, SW is being recommended for approval for assistance under the City’s 2009 Urgent Repair Program in an amount no to exceed $5,000. This program provides qualified low income citizens with assistance for emergency related repairs not to exceed $5,000. Funds are budgeted through the City’s Community Development Department funding received in FY 2009-10.

E. Approve Vacant Building Revitalization Grant to JeJe, LLC for Property Located at 1025 Tate Boulevard, SE in the Amount of $25,000 - The Vacant Building Revitalization Grant Program was established by City Council in September, 2008 whereby the program provides matching funds up to $25,000 for projects seeking to renovate and rehabilitate vacant buildings and the demolition of substandard buildings. To date the program has awarded a total of $82,430 in grant funds. JeJe, LLC has applied for such a grant in the amount of $25,000 to assist in the renovation of the interior and exterior of the building to include improvements to the parking area, painting, lighting, graffiti removal and a new accessible building entrance. The building will be occupied by a sprinkler contractor. The Redevelopment Committee reviewed the application and recommends approval.

F. Approve Vacant Building Revitalization Grant to Black Investments, LLC for Property Located at 733 1st Avenue, NW in the Amount of $25,000 - The Vacant Building Revitalization Grant Program was established by City Council in September, 2008 whereby the program provides matching funds up to $25,000 for projects seeking to renovate and rehabilitate vacant buildings and the demolition of substandard buildings. To date the program has awarded a total of $82,430 in grant funds. Black Investments, LLC has applied for such a grant in the amount of $25,000 to assist in the renovation of the exterior of the building, to include painting, lighting, graffiti removal and a new accessible building entrance. The building will be used by the adjacent business, Aiken-Black Tire Service. The Redevelopment Committee reviewed the application and recommends approval.

G. Accept Year Three Traffic Unit Grant From the Governor’s Highway Safety Program - The Governor’s Highway Safety Program has approved the Traffic Unit Grant to the City of Hickory to continue to fund four full time officers, training and equipment at a cost of $202,260. The City will be responsible for 50% or $101,130 of the cost. In 2008, the Hickory Police Department responded to 4,135 traffic crashes within the city which is a reduction of 6% from 2007. The Hickory Police Department feels that by continuing education and aggressive enforcement for year three of this grant, the number of traffic crashes will continue to reduce.

H. Approve Municipal Agreement With the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) for Bridge Inspections on the City’s Street System in the Amount of $4,800 - The Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1978 requires inspection of all bridges on at least a 2 year cycle. The NCDOT is to employ a qualified engineering firm to perform the inspection and analysis of the structures and to prepare the necessary Structural Inventory and Appraisal forms for submission to the Federal Highway Administration. There are eight structures that require inspection at a cost of $3,000 each or a total of $24,000. The Federal Highway Administration will participate with the cost up to 80% and the City’s share is 20% at an estimated cost of $4,800.

I. Approve Traffic-Review and Inspection Agreement With the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) for Upgrade and Construction of Traffic Signals Regarding the Clement Boulevard NW Connector Project in the Amount of $15,000 - This agreement enables NCDOT design review and construction inspections of the traffic signals on the Clement Boulevard NW Connector Project and is required by NCDOT. The NCDOT will only bill for actual time charged to this project.

Budget Ordinance Amendments -
1. To appropriate $267 of General Miscellaneous Revenue and budget in the Fire Department departmental supply line item. The Fire Department received funds from the sale of scrap metal to Mountain Recycling.

2. To appropriate and budget a $1,987 miscellaneous insurance claim check received from Trident Insurance Company in the Rural Fire Department maintenance and repair of equipment line item. This claim check is for lightning damage sustained to equipment (phone system, radio system, emergency generator) at Station 5 that occurred on 08-05-09.

3. To appropriate and budget a $807 miscellaneous insurance claim check received from Trident Insurance Company in the Police Department maintenance and repair of vehicles line item. This claim check is for damage sustained to a police vehicle on 09-17-09.

4. To appropriate $510 of Local Government Revenue and budget in the Police Department Overtime line item. This revenue is payment from Catawba County Mental Health for a portion of an Officers time spent when accompanying involuntary commitment patients.

5. To transfer a total of $15,000 (Economic and Community Development-$5,000) and (Public Safety - $10,000) to the Information Technology Maintenance and Repair of Equipment line item. This transfer represents several departments share of contributions to pay for the GIS/ESRI contract unlimited seat license (USL). ESRI (Environmental Systems Research Institute) is the leader in commercial GIS (Geographic Information Systems) software. GIS is a software application that specializes in land-use analysis. It combines points, lines and polygons to overlay these unique points in space onto a map. This geographic information is combined with other data to produce a highly useful visual representation (flow of water, density of buildings, size/location of pipes, demographic info, etc.). As the demand for GIS has grown, we have begungenerating more data and discovering more uses. This contract for an ELA (Enterprise License Agreement) will allow the City of Hickory to have unlimited use of all ESRI GIS software. Today we pay on a per-user basis which restricts our ability to effectively roll out these services.

6. To appropriate $25,000 of General Fund Balance and budget in the Planning Department's Vacant Building Revitalization Grant line item. This appropriation provides matching funds to assist JeJe, LLC in the renovation of a building located at 1025 Tate Blvd. SE. Plans are to renovate this facility for use by a sprinkler contractor. JeJe, LLC plans to invest approximately $75,000 on improvements to the parking, vehicle access areas surrounding the building, painting, exterior light improvements, graffiti removal, and a new accessible building entrance.

7. To appropriate $25,000 of General Fund Balance and budget in the Planning Department's Vacant Building Revitalization Grant line item. This appropriation provides matching funds to assist Black Investments, LLC in the renovation of a building located at 733 1st. Ave. NW. Plans are to renovate this facility for use by the adjacent tire and auto service center. Plans are to invest approximately $50,000 on renovation to the exterior of the building, painting, exterior light improvements, graffiti removal and a new accessible building entrance.

8. To transfer $1,563 of General Fund Contingency to the Carolina Thread Trail line item to pay the City of Hickory's portion of a $60,000 grant from CTT. This grant is for the development of the master greenway plan for Catawba County. Hickory is one of nine jurisdictions participating in the cost share grant. The Carolina Thread Trail is an initiative to create a network of greenways, trails and blueways in a 15 county region that holds 2.3 million people in North and South Carolina.

Grant Project Ordinance Amendment No. 3
1. To budget $3,846 of Federal Revenue in the Economic and Community Development 2009 Housing Rehab/Purchase Program line item. This amendment is necessary to budget additional revenue received from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development for the Community Development Block Grant program.

Informational Items:
A. Report of City Manager Berry’s NC Department of Transportation Meeting With Jim Trogdon in Raleigh, NC on September 28, 2009; mileage - $220.20

B. Report of City Manager Berry’s Attendance of the 2009 Intra-City Visit in Raleigh and Hickory, NC From September 30 – October 2, 2009; registration - $120; mileage - $193.60

C. Report of Mayor Wright’s Attendance of the 2009 Intra-City Visit in Hickory, NC From October 1 – 2, 2009; registration $60

D. Report of Alderwoman Patton’s Attendance of the 2009 Intra-City Visit in Hickory, NC From October 1 -2, 2009; registration $60

New Business - Public Hearings:
1. Voluntary Contiguous Annexation of the Property of Kirk and Debra Hobart Located at 976 30th Avenue Drive, NW - A petition was submitted by Kirk and Debra Hobart for voluntary contiguous annexation for property located at 976 30th Avenue Drive, NW, which is part of the W.B. Shuford Lake Property subdivision. The property owners are requesting annexation for connection to municipal sewer service. The property is located in the City’s extra-territorial jurisdictional area and zoned R-2 Residential. The current tax value is $175,000 and if annexed, would generate $879 in additional tax revenues. Cal Overby made the presentation and showed a power point presentation. Council Unanimously consented to the annexation.

2. Resolution and Order for Petition of Catawba County (Consented to by Catawba Valley Medical Center) to Close a Portion of Old School Drive - On August 26, 2009, Commercial First Real Estate (Lutheran Home – Hickory West) presented a petition on behalf of Catawba County, the owner of property abutting Old School Drive, requesting the City to abandon a portion of this right of way. This portion of the right-of-way is no longer necessary for public use and appears the closing is not contrary to public interest. Staff recommends that the City retain a 25’ easement for any existing water and sewer lines. Chuck Hanson addressed the Council on this issue. Scott Eckelberger, vice president of operations at Catawba Valley Medical Center spoke in support and introduced a Ms. Bowman who pointed to the Overview of the Power Point presentation and stated that they would not be able to develop the project if this is not consented to. Council Unanimously consented to the annexation.

New Business - Departmental Reports:
1. Quarterly Financial Report - Assistant City Manager Warren Wood made a presentation of the Financial Statement through the first quarter of the current 2009-2010 fiscal year. Revenues seem to be in line at just over 20% of total revenues received for the year. They feel pretty good about this. On the expenditure side they have spent 25.98% of their budget compared to 23.89% for the same period last year. the 5-year average is closer to 24, so they are a little bit ahead. The hiring freeze is still in place. Revenues versus expenditures. To date they have spent $722,000 more than they have received. The 5-year average is $850,000. So they are doing well on this account. he stated that this is a surprise and it is good news.

The water and sewer fund also 25% a year complete. Revenues are just over 20% of total revenues received for the year and the 5-year average is normally slightly less than that. They are doing well there. On the expenditure side they have spent 22% of their budget. The 5-year average is closer to 24%, so feel very good about this. Revenues versus expenditures. To date they have received $72,000 more than they have spent. The 5-year average is that they have spent $675,000 more than they have taken in.

The investment portfolio has $44 million invested compared to last years $42.7 million. These investments are yielding 2.8% versus last year's 4.2%. They have moved money out of CDs, because they aren't paying anything. Revenues on property tax collections show that we are down on collections from just over 97.3% last year to around 96.6% this year. This will cost the city $166,000 in revenue. For every tenth of a percent the collection rate drops it costs the city $25,000.

Sales tax shows that the local penny is down 20% through July and august. The State penny shows a little bit of improvement, but it is still down 13%. Power Bill Revenue is down $150,000. Power bill revenue goes to pay for road infrastructure.

The Hounds take is that the numbers speak for themselves. Everything is down and it doesn't look like the numbers will turn around any time soon. Warren Wood and city staff should be commended for making the best out of this eroding financial landscape. At some point, we are going to have to shift the paradigm towards growing Hickory's economy, but that has nothing to do with Mr. Wood. We have to do whatever it takes to bring business into Hickory and increase our tax base, because we are already cutting into the bone when it comes to city services.

2. Police Chief Adkins will brief council on the response to an anonymous letter received on October 9, 2009 addressed to Mayor Wright - The letter was from a concerned citizen who was upset about some of the merchandise being sold at Spencer's gift store in Valley Hill's Mall. Chief Adkin's went over some of the statutes of the City and the state of North Carolina. Back in November 2005 a law was passed about what can be displayed and what has to be shielded from minors. Major Deal sent a lieutenant out to Spencer's to view the material in the complaint, but found no evidence of any such material. On Monday the 12th, they went back out and checked. They have been working with the staff of Spencer's and the stff at the Mall on this issue. On the following Thursday, Spencer's legal counsel contacted the police department. He spoke with chief adkins and they went over some of the items that were questionable, that may not be defined by the ordinance, but could be considered offensive to members of the public. The Chief stated that they Spencer's worked with the department and removed some of the items from the shelves and changed the location of some items. Ms. Dula and Mr. Crone (Hickory's Legal representatives) went down with Chief Adkins and spoke with Spencer's counsel and asked them to do some repackaging and put up some better signage. He went back on Friday and he now states there are no violations.

Mayor Wright expressed an opinion that Spencer's has 600 stores. They want to sell merchandise to Adults and Kids in the same store. They understand the laws and how to avoid going across the line. They have an online site and in order to go to the adult part of the site, you have to push a button that states that you are over 18. they categorize themselves as edgy, he isn't sure what that means, but he thinks it means they are edgy to the line.

The Hound wants to commend the parties involved for working this out. Chief Adkins sought to work with Spencer's in getting this done. This wasn't where the city ran in there and started telling Spencer's how they were going to operate their business. It is always better when the city takes this position with a business, than using the ramrod approach we have seen in the past with the Priscilla's issue, the Open Storage law, and the Drinking Establishment ordinance.

Spencer's should also be commended for working with the city, when their items were not violating any city codes. They obviously have done, within reason, what the city wanted them to do. To me that shows a business that does care. If we are going to start writing codes based upon when a person is offended, then we won't have any businesses in Hickory, no one will be able to market their products, and customers won't be protected; because they won't know what they are buying.

If a parent does not want their child to see materials, they deem offensive, then it is their responsibility to keep the child, who they are guardian of, away from the supposedly offensive material. Did anyone force these people to go into Spencer's?

3. Approve Shared Purchase of Right-of-Way With Caldwell County for the US 321
to Grace Chapel Road Connector Project in the Amount of $30,000 - The City of Hickory and Caldwell County desire to share in the purchase of right of way, approximately 2.129 acres, from the Hill, Starnes, Ritchie et al property in the amount of $60,000. The City’s portion will be 50% at a cost of $30,000. The purchase price also includes the purchase of 3868 sq. ft. of permanent drainage easement area and 2.733 acres of temporary construction easement. This purchase is necessary to extend Alex Lee Boulevard northeastto the proposed US 321 to Grace Chapel Road Connector road project. The property was appraised by Mr. Ralph Prestwood, Jr., MAI at $25,877 excluding the drainage and construction easements. The City’s Street Division currently maintains the existing section of Alex Lee Boulevard and once constructed, the City would also maintain this new section. Caldwell County has advised that they are agreeable to the purchase at 50%. Due to closing deadlines, staff requests two readings be held on October 20, 2009.

Budget Ordinance Amendment No. 8 - 1. To transfer $30,000 of General Fund Balance to the Grace Chapel/US 321 Connector Road Project. This transfer is to pay Hill, Starnes, Ritchie et al for Hickory's share of the $60,000 purchase price for 2.129 acres to be used as right of way (ROW) for the US 321 to Grace Chapel Road Connector. Caldwell County will share in the purchase of the right of way with the City of Hickory. The total purchase price is $60,000 with a 50/50 shared cost with Caldwell County. The purchase price includes the purchase of 3,868 sq. feet of permanent drainage easement area and 2.733 acres of temporary construction easement. Staff requests two readings on October 20, 2009 due to the closing deadlines of Item X.B.3.

Grant Project Ordinance Amendment No. 4-1. To accept and budget a $30,000 transfer of General Fund Balance to the Grace Chapel/321 Connector Road Project and to budget $30,000 of Restricted Intergovernmental Revenue from Catawba County. This amendment is necessary to pay Hill, Starnes, Ritchie et al $60,000 for 2.129 acres to be used as right of way (ROW) for the US 321 to Grace Chapel Road Connector. Caldwell County will share in the purchase of the right of way with the City of Hickory. The total purchase price is $60,000 with a 50/50 shared cost with Caldwell County. The purchase price includes the purchase of 3,868 sq. feet of permanent drainage easement area and 2.733 acres of temporary construction easement. Staff requests two readings on October 20, 2009 due to the closing deadlines of Item X.B.3.
Council Unanimously consented to the annexation.

Update Regarding Landscaping and Signage Along the Lenoir-Rhyne Boulevard Extension Project - The Lenoir-Rhyne Boulevard extension project is expected to be completed and opened to the public in December, 2009 pursuant to the NCDOT. City staff has finalized landscaping plans for the median and right of way areas in addition to the installation of the first “Welcome to Hickory” sign which is part of the City’s wayfinding program. Chuck Hanson did the presentation and showed a Power Point display of the project. He thoroughly talked about the construction, landscaping, right of ways, and signage involved in this project. He had Photoshopped pictures of what this project should look like when completed and talked about the specific trees, plantings, and vegetation that will be located at the project. The total cost of this project will be $40,000. The sign and landscaping around it will cost an additional amount of money.

The Hound wants to reiterate that I don't understand why it is such a big deal that this is where the first Wayfinding/new Logo sign will be located. The Wayfinding issue is supposed to be about marketing and direction issues. We're always talking about bang for the buck. Is this location where we are going to get the most bang for the buck?

The systematic rolling out of these signs should be based upon traffic count and where people are having the most trouble getting to and fro, not upon the whims and fancies of elected officials -- and that is what it surely seems to be. This city has spent at least $75,000+ on this issue and now it is being implemented in an arbitrary manner. Does that make sense?

In the end the City is going to do what it wants and I am once again being forced to take a principled stand on an issue. Many people may think this is nitpicky and/or trivial, but when it continuously runs the gamut of city processes, then we might be getting at one of the core issues we are facing in our governance and leadership. It is time to quit doing what suits your fancy and start doing what is in the people's best interest.

*** Alderman Seaver talked about the training that city firefighter's are presently going through. 19 firefighters are participating in this boot camp style training. A video is being made of this training.

*** The Mayor talked about the mention of Hickory in this month's Reader's Digest about the robbery that took place at the Captain's galley last year. The register tape, from the register that was stolen, was caught in the door and led the police to the man's apartment where he was apprehended. The police followed the paper trail (haha) to the man's apartment where they busted him.