The Rowan County Economic Development Commission (EDC) recently launched a new initiative to promote growth and provide resources to existing businesses in Rowan County. This campaign, called Forward Rowan, is an aggressive five-year initiative that targets specific areas of economic development to increase prosperity, reduce poverty, and improve quality of life.
What is Forward Rowan
Forward Rowan was created with the thought of existing business in the forefront of the plan. The EDC and county leaders recognize the existing businesses in Rowan County as the core of the Rowan County economy today. In addition to focusing on the already existing businesses, the next focus is to prioritize readiness. This means working on growing the economy by prioritizing the abundance of skilled labor already in the county, while also raising funds to create infrastructure and incentives to compete with other communities in the area. By the end of the five-year campaign (2024), the goal is to have added 2,500 jobs with living wages exceeding $33,000 which will in turn lead to the creation of 1,265 secondary jobs in Rowan County. To view the return on investment by 2024 flyer, click here. When creating the monetary goals for this campaign, EDC President, Rod Crider, said, “we looked at the growth patterns for North Carolina, the Charlotte region and counties surrounding Rowan in addition to our own record of performance over the past few years.”
This plan has been in the works for several years now, since the Rowan County Board of Commissioners fell under new leadership. Crider stated, “much work was done to reconfigure the EDC’s priorities, which included above all else, a new commitment to supporting Rowan County’s existing businesses. As we developed deeper relationships with them, the efforts of the EDC and the value it brings to Rowan County’s employers became more well-known and understood.” After a positive initial assessment, the plan moved into action in February of 2020.
Increase Prosperity, Reduce Poverty, and Improve Quality of Life
To sustain and enhance the businesses that we already have in the county, a simple framework was developed to introduced bold new strategies and an approach to this system of economic growth. The guiding principles of the holistic plan is to improve the quality of life, increase prosperity, and reduce poverty. To do this, four areas of focus were selected to narrow the focus on each of those goals. The strategies for these four focus areas are:
- Target Economic Growth Through Business Retention and Attraction Efforts
The objectives of this strategy are to grow existing businesses, work on attracting new firms and investments, and maintain competitive locational advantages by attracting new employers to the Rowan County area in these targeted sectors: advanced manufacturing, logistics and distribution, office and technology, and health. Directly associated with that, the goal is also to ensure that the infrastructure is in place or is enhanced to support this expansion of business and development. An effort will also be made to broaden the reach of the current business retention and expansion program of the EDC called Expand Rowan. This program helps to address the needs of Rowan’s traded sector businesses.
- Talent Attraction and Development
By increasing focus on talent attraction and development, this allows the EDC to achieve the goal of supporting lifelong endeavors by aligning education, training, businesses, and social services. The positive reputation of education in Rowan County is already contributing to this aspect of the strategy. Curricula is already being developed in both local colleges and K-12 schools to meet the needs of employers in Rowan County. “We want Rowan County to be known an a “learning” community, where residents are continually striving to gain new knowledge, information and skills that prepare them for the jobs of the future,” says Crider. The Rowan Educational Collaborative (REC) was recently established to see that these goals are accomplished. By increasing the amount of effort being focused onto our local colleges, the goal is to retain local graduates in the Rowan County area.
- Brand Identity & Storytelling
The goal of promoting brand identity and storytelling is to enhance community pride and understanding among the members of Rowan County, as well as those outside of the county. This will be done through a variety of different platforms of communication and marketing to promote the competitive advantages and positive aspects of the community. Influencing the perception of the external communities and how they perceive Rowan County is key to increasing interest for future business partnerships and other opportunities that may draw new people to Rowan County.
- Service Delivery Excellence
To ensure that this plan is brought to fruition, the service delivery in Rowan County needs to be of the highest standard. This is directly tied to the Rowan EDC and increasing awareness of the value of their contributions to the county. An organizational structure will be developed to support the expected level of service for investors, prospects, and existing industries. To do so, EDC staff will be trained and new recruiting efforts will be implemented to maintain a high level of consistent service to the community. Leadership will be comprised of both public and private sector representatives to provide oversight on all Forward Rowan initiatives.
How COVID-19 Affects the Plan
Co-creators of Forward Rowan, Greg Edds and Steve Fisher, are well aware that launching this campaign 6 weeks before a pandemic may seem less than ideal at first glance. However, they truly believe the timing of the launch could not be better stating, “the detrimental business impact of coronavirus magnifies the need for our EDC to grow jobs, attract investment, and build a more resilient economy to weather this and future economic challenges.” The goal is to promote economic recovery from the effects of the coronavirus and kick-start the efforts for the county.
There have been a few areas of the campaign that were affected by the coronavirus. First, COVID-19 limited the ability to meet with businesses regarding the program due to health concerns. Businesses were left scrambling to understand what would happen next and how they would be affected. Crider mentioned that the EDC struggled with the shift of switching their focus away from the Forward Rowan launch, to the immediate needs of our existing businesses. This is why the campaign was suspended for two months in an attempt to let the dust settle for both local businesses and the EDC.
Engage with Forward Rowan
This may seem like a massive economic plan, but believe it or not, you can help contribute to the creation of jobs and improvement of Rowan County’s economic future by engaging with Forward Rowan. You can become an investor in Forward Rowan today by emailing the EDC or calling the EDC office directly at 704.637.5526. Stay in the know with updates on Forward Rowan by liking the Rowan EDC on Facebook.