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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

HDR Letter to the Editor: 'Time to come together on economic development'

Jerry Willard was my Economic and Government teacher when I was in 9th grade (1980-81) at Newton-Conover Junior High School. A great mentor and role model to many in this community through the years.

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Hickory Daily Record Letter to the Editor: ‘Time to come together on economic development’ - (August 16. 2017)
Some years ago, I wrote a letter to the community through this forum to help us remember a founding principle of Catawba County’s birth and economic development.

I highlighted the entrepreneurial spirit of our founders who found conditions, resources, and the strong work ethic which made our region grow and prosper.

While I have seen and heard much in my time as an educator (now teaching in year 47) about economic development, I have yet to see a real plan that taps into that entrepreneurial spirit that made this area a great place to live.

As a component of a new plan, I advocate marketing to the nation and the world, “Young folks with great ideas for start-ups, we have buildings and plans to grow new businesses, provide you incentives, and a commitment to foster the Catawba Valley entrepreneurial spirit. Come on in.”

I call on leaders to make sure all stake holders have been included in the development and implementation of plans, and that all plans, especially those which have promised results from bond funding can be assessed for effectiveness?

I feel we spend way too much time and money putting lipstick on pigs to attract the “big companies” rather than truly developing economic foundations.

It’s time to focus on growing the culture and environment that made this a great place to live in the first place. It takes work, transparency, and a great plan to enhance a culture.

We have a vibrant university in town, we have solid and well-focused public schools, we have growing and niche based private and parochial schools. We have a great place to live; but we don’t have a sound, researched-based economic development plan.

This is not a factor of not caring. We care, and our leaders care. I feel we just don’t have the knowledge, research, and models to make us more aware and more successful.

You know, Greenville, S.C. didn’t just happen. They had a highly sophisticated and transparent plan based on consensus goals with metrics for measuring success.

If this county and region has financial resources to support economic growth, it’s time to make sure those resources are part of a sound plan. A house built on lipstick and sand might make us feel pretty and that we are at the beach, but we know the results of such foundations; the Good Book tells us the same thing.

It’s time to come together on economic development with a little Christ-like humility on a plan that is researched-based, and that works for all of our citizens.

It’s time for our citizens to ask some hard questions about economic development.

Jerry Willard

Hickory

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Letter to the Editor: We've been selling. People aren't buying.

Below is my Letter to the Editor that was in Tuesday's (August 1, 2017) Hickory Daily Record - My mother encapsulated the thought about Hickory's 2017 Mayoral election when she told me, 'I read all of those press releases. It's like the same person wrote them.' I'm not here to cast aspersions about this issue. You can go read articles and threads from this website. It is all about the true, real Economic Development plan that this community has been in desperate need of for a long, long time.

At tonight's City Council meeting City Manager Warren Wood talked about the creation of a plan for Long Term Economic Development. Essentially, there is going to be a new chain of command and accountability. God, I hope so, but this is about the people we elect more than the paid professionals. I'm on board with Warren, because I think he is open-minded about possibilities. 

For far too long, we've put the cart before the horse. Somebody in a position of authority would get a wild hair up their (#youknowwhere) and decide to run with it. That's the absolutely 100% wrong way to do things. Democracy can be uncomfortable, but when you get people of diverse circumstances to come together and hash out issues, then you come up with the best ideas, you get everyone to buy-in and pull in the same direction. It makes for a happier community even when circumstances are less than ideal. When you dictate policy through a top-down authoritative chain of command, then people feel #miserable.

Like Warren pointed out tonight, we have some real opportunities and possibilities for Economic Development. This will not happen unless the elected leadership and the people who vote for them understand that we can't afford to continue with the S.O.S.O. (Same Ole Same Ole)... and folks we are still on the path of the same ole same ole, no matter what they say.

Like I've said, I don't pretend to have all the answers. I don't think any one person does. I am willing to listen and I hope others will afford an open mind. If anyone wants to send me an e-mail about what they think would be a good idea, then please do so -- hickoryhound@gmail.com 

I had another good friend pass away this week. Richard Garrison, a news reporter with WMNC in Morganton passed away due to complications from Diabetes. Richard would sit beside me at Council meetings and he was one of the people I spent hours speaking with. I will miss him greatly. He actually worked with my grandmother at WIRC radio back in the 1980s. She ran the swap shop at that time and it was one of Richard's first jobs in radio. We had a special bond because of that. Richard loved politics and he knew all kinds of stuff and he loved informing me about happenings around the area, the State, and basically everywhere. I called him Rickee, he'd laugh cause no one else called him that. Peace Be With You Rickee. You are now immortal.

Below is my letter.

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Election season is upon us and in Hickory we see four contenders for Mayor. We've read press releases in this paper about why they are running, those reasons sound as if the same person wrote the summaries. They all tell us about job creation, attracting population, and building out infrastructure.

These candidates tell us that our economic problems have been related to issues with "Branding", our "Message", Marketing and "Selling" our community. Personally. I don't think our issues relate to all of that as much as what is the Substance of our message.

This community deserves specifics about each candidate's "Economic Development Plans" and their "Vision" moving forward. What are the objectives of their plan? How would they strategically implement it? Will they pledge to transparency and accountability measures? How will they work towards community buy-in? What will they define as success?

I believe that the candidate that can articulate the above is the person who could help bring businesses here.

Honestly, we don't have a sales problem in our community. Look at the decision makers in our community. They are all salespeople. They sell Insurance, Financial Services, Real Estate, Furniture, Hotel Rooms, etc. I'm not here to dismiss the capabilities of a good salesperson, but maybe we need to take a look at the other side of the Economic Equation.

In economics, the other side of the sales equation is demand. We live in a growing State. Since 2000, Charlotte's population has grown by more than 50%, Raleigh up 65%,  Asheville up 30%, Wilmington up 55%.

In that time, Hickory's population is up by 8% and virtually nothing since 2010. For more than a decade, we've been working on branding, messages, and marketing. We've been spending a lot of public money on such initiatives. We've been selling. People aren't buying.

I understand that people want a positive message, but I think we really need a serious message. We don't need a "Me Too" message. We need a Mayor who understands the demand side of the equation. What do people and businesses want?

Catch Phrases and Buzzwords might make for comfort, but it isn't going to bring in big business or the masses. The future Mayor will have a choice to make. Is he going to go along for the ride or is he going to drive. I'm interested to find out.