By Wesley Brown
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
A renewed focus on road infrastructure and the possibility of partnering with local agencies to develop a $2.5 million medical research park in Greenville were touted on Tuesday as the keys to accomplishing the city’s main economic goals of tax-base expansion and job creation.
The points of interest were among the major highlights of a 90-minute brainstorming session led by Mayor Allen Thomas’ Economic Development Advisory Council on how to spark a “lightning rod” of activity in the city that will attract new investment and industry to Greenville.
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More than 10 organizations were represented in the roundtable discussion, asking the city to provide “direction and money,” two areas the City Council made some headway this week in attempting to grow Greenville into the economic and medical hub of eastern North Carolina.
The governing board gave staff clearance to start building connections with potential partners and identifying funding options to spend as much as $10 million in an aging road system to spur growth, particularly a medical research park.
“We have to have each other’s back and make a commitment if we are going to move forward,” Thomas said to the 10 groups at Tuesday’s meeting. “Sometimes economic development is seen as an issue that should be left up to elected officials, but the city is just a small piece of the puzzle. The community is what really drives ideas.”
At the core of the mayor’s strategic vision for economic growth is collaboration, but first Greenville has to position itself to be a viable partner, with more than 600 miles of bumpy and deteriorating streets being at the forefront of the city’s needs.
Kevin Mulligan, director of Greenville Public Works, presented a two-part strategy for fixing area roads, either of which could be on the municipal ballot in November for possible funding through a general obligation bond.
Plan A would be to spend $10 million to resurface the 100 miles of city road most in need of repair.
Plan B either would spend $5 million to resurface 50 miles of road or split the cash to rehabilitate Arlington Boulevard between Stantonsburg Road and Evans Street and improve the Fifth Street corridor downtown.
Mulligan said if neither was selected that in time it could cost 10 times more money to rebuild a road once it eventually fails.
“It is not a glamorous idea, but I am proud of this council for going back to the fundamentals and looking towards better maintaining our roads, the lifeblood of our economy,” Carl Rees, Greenville economic development manager, said.
Rees said that in recruiting industry, the city’s road system is one of the first things a prospective company reviews.
Crystal Morphis, founder of Creative Economic Development Consulting, is conducting a three-month assessment of Greenville’s market to determine which markets, products and industries Greenville should target to outbid its regional competitors — identified by Morphis as Athens, Ga., Lynchburg, Va., and Johnson City, Tenn.
Morphis described the college cities as “aggressive” competitors, adding that economic development is a “team sport” and cooperation among private industries, Pitt County government, and organizations and local colleges and universities is a must to succeed. Morphis and city staff plan to present a report to council on potential partners and economic strategies in May.
A project that could unify the community is a $2.5 million medical research park that at-large Councilman Dennis Mitchell has suggested to provide more large-scale office space in the area, expand training opportunities and retain young professionals who graduate from Greenville colleges and universities.
In researching impact studies, Mitchell said that the development of a 200-acre research park in North Carolina’s Piedmont created 100 jobs, a $50 million payroll, and netted local counties and cities $42 million in revenue.
Mitchell said for a research park to become a reality in Greenville more than anything the city needs to create fertile groundwhere not only homegrown companies, but also outside businesses, can thrive.
“If we build it, they will come,” Mitchell said of infrastructure.
District 1 Councilwoman Kandie Smith agreed, but on a different type of investment.
“It is important that we build partnerships and invite all parties — from both the public and private sector — to the table in the interest of working together and moving our city forward,” Smith said. “Everyone should be involved, and if they are, it is going to be easier to sell our city, both to ourselves and others.”
Contact Wes Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-329-9579. Follow him on Twitter @CityWatchdog.
via The Daily Reflector.