Mayors Speak Up: Promoting the Original in ‘Our Town’
What makes a town in Rowan County attractive to newcomers, be they businesses or residents?
There are many local places that “Live Original,” with 10 incorporated towns in or bordering the county and other unincorporated communities in Rowan that have an identity and uniqueness all their own.
One thing for sure — there is pride in ownership, and it extends far beyond our borders. People, in general, love their hometowns and are sentimental when they are no longer there. Just think of all the musicians who sing about “Our Town,” from James Taylor to Emmylou Harris to Frank Sinatra to Iris DeMent and many others.
Rod Crider, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Rowan Economic Development Commission, knows these Rowan County towns well. He remains neutral, leaving it to town officials to promote their uniqueness. He says the locations are fairly equal in desirability. All of them fit into his “Big Three” appeal categories:
- Access to transportation
- Proximity to labor pools
- Location near to, but not in, a major metro market.
And, of course, he says that having available sites or buildings is a big factor in the business location or relocation world.
We asked Rowan’s mayors to tell us what makes their town original to its people, visitors, and potential newcomers. We found the mayors proud of their towns and eager to sing their praises.
East Spencer’s Low Crime Rate
Barbara Mallett, mayor of East Spencer for 10 years, promotes her town as a quiet place to live with the lowest crime rate in the county and located within a mile of four schools. “There is a lot of land inside town limits on the cusp of development,” she said.
“We are building. We are ready for people to see what East Spencer has to offer,” she added. The town recently re-developed a five-acre park with a state-of-the-art splash pad and a new trail that is part of the Carolina Thread Trail.
The town has received housing grants for redevelopment and is actively working on zoning, identifying land parcels for development. A loop line on
Choate Road has been developed to help with development in the extraterritorial jurisdiction. The Aldi Distribution Center and Hanford-Dole School are in the area, which is equipped with water/sewer.
“We’re right on Interstate 85 at Exit 79,” she said. “We are primed for development. It helps to be located between highly developed counties such as Mecklenburg and Guilford. “We can be in Charlotte or Greensboro in less than 45 minutes,” she said.
Mayor Mallett is proud of the mutual aid agreement East Spencer has with nearby Spencer. The two towns combine services, when needed, and support each other in events, such as East Spencer’s Springfest and National Night Out.
Spencer and the River
Spencer Mayor Jonathan Williams promotes the Yadkin River and its connection to Spencer. Spencer is the only town in the county with its town limits bordering the river at the Rowan-Davidson County line. “With stunning views, boating and kayaking access nearby, great fishing, and historical experiences, the Yadkin River provides an abundance of fun-filled opportunities,” he said.
Spencer and the northern Rowan area are known as “Big Green Nation,” for the distinctive school colors of North Rowan High School. “We take great pride in our three local community schools,” he said. “In addition to a rich history of successful athletic programs, our area schools place an academic focus on innovative, individualized learning approaches, tailored to the interests and goals of each unique student, with a focus on building design, entrepreneurship, and leadership skills,” he said.
Home of the popular North Carolina Transportation Museum and the North Carolina Museum of Dolls, Toys, and Miniatures, Spencer welcomes 155,000 visitors each year. This is another great opportunity, the mayor said. “Spencer is the perfect location for small business establishments, which could include retail such as arts and crafts, dining, entertainment or lodging.”
Transportation Museum events, such as Day Out With Thomas, the Polar Express, a large fire truck show, and concerts, bring visitors year-round.
Mayor Williams said vehicle counts between 7,000 and 8,000 per day are recorded in the downtown district. More than 62,000 vehicles use Interstate 85 passing Spencer exits each day.
He cites the location of three interstates as pluses: 1 mile to I-85, less than 20 miles to I-40, and less than 25 miles to I-77. And he adds: “Spencer is the exact center between Washington, DC, and Atlanta. Our town board, staff, and citizens have established a vision for progressive economic development, with ample opportunities for both small and large businesses,” he said.
Spencer also has the largest contiguous historic district in the state with plenty of reasonably priced homes. “Our town offers equal opportunities for the new home construction or the chance to own a piece of architectural history within the downtown district,” he said.
The town’s Stanback Educational Forest and Park, the Eighth Street Ballpark, and the Spencer Library provide recreational and educational opportunities, he said. Greenspace enhancement projects include a Yadkin River Park trailhead U.S. 29 bikeway/greenway, expansion of the Stanback Educational Forest, and a new park in the heart of downtown.
“Living in Spencer is truly a special opportunity and a big deal … a Big Green Deal!” Mayor Williams said.
Kannapolis and Its Big Ideas
On the other end of the county, at the border of Rowan and Cabarrus County, Kannapolis promotes itself as “a welcoming community with the growth and momentum to create opportunities for new and existing businesses,” according to Annette Privette Keller, Communications Director for the town.
“We have a revitalized downtown, a strong community college, five interstate exits, and close proximity to major metro markets and airports,” she said.
Kannapolis’ competitive tax structure makes it specifically attractive for businesses, she added. “Our leadership strongly supports business growth with long-term investments in infrastructure. We are not afraid to have big ideas and do big things!”
The town’s “reimagined downtown is now home to many local restaurants and shops, as well as the new Atrium Ballpark, home of the Kannapolis Cannon Ballers,” she said. “We want our residents to embrace healthy living. Kannapolis offers a high quality of life that is affordable and close to regional amenities — a great place for families. The town has an award-winning menu of healthy offerings — parks, greenways, recreational programs, festivals, concert, and movie series,” she added.
China Grove’s Housing Options
In nearby China Grove, another southern Rowan town, Mayor Charles E. Seaford promotes the town’s active Board of Trade, working to bring people to the town of shop, dine, live, work, experience family recreation, and worship.
He cites a vibrant downtown with available space, extending to the South End that will accommodate any type of business. The 5,000 China Grove citizens prefer to shop and dine locally, he said.
Living in China Grove offers options that range from a historic neighborhood to a modern subdivision to a rural home with acreage to a multi-family setting.
The town promotes more than 20 annual events for families to experience. Downtown shopping and restaurants are accessible — walk, bike, or arrive in a golf cart.
“To sum it up, China Grove has been able to maintain its small-town atmosphere. You can raise a family in a low-crime, caring community that knows each other, cares for, and looks out for each other,” Mayor Seaford said.
When Brett Krueger first visited Salisbury’s Empire Hotel, he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. It’s always been the most talked about building in town, but Brett is from Charlotte. Salisbury was not on his historic-development radar. A developer for 25 years, he was busy making buildings beautiful in Asheville and Charlotte.
There may be “money on the ground” coming toward Rowan County in The American Jobs Plan, now before Congress, and it is good news for all of us who travel on roads and bridges that the North Carolina Department of Transportation has declared structurally deficient.