DOBSON — The Surry County commissioners listed economic development as a short-term and long-term priority for the county at a recent retreat, and they tossed around some ideas for the future.
Board Chairman Paul Johnson said the county has been getting some hits on economic development projects recently, but it is a competition.
He said that with the infrastructure the county has put together in these bad economic times, “We’ve used our financing to a maximum.”
Johnson said he would love to recruit, retain and expand businesses in the county “to where that anybody and everybody that wanted a job in Surry County would have a job to pay their bills and feed their families.”
Commissioner Buck Golding wants to see unemployment fall to five percent in the future.
Diversity of jobs needed
During the economic development discussion, Commissioner Garry Scearce echoed a statement made earlier by Commissioner Eddie Harris: “To understand where we’re going, we need to know where we’ve been.”
Scearce pointed out that for many years, the county put most of its eggs in the textile basket, but then those businesses left.
“That’s our biggest reason for unemployment, because we were all textile,” Scearce said. He advised against falling into the same trap of relying on one industry in the future.
Golding said, “I want jobs that are reasonably well paid. It can be a variety of type of things.”
Scearce said he would like to get some industrial facilities along Riverside Drive, perhaps for machining or production of medical equipment.
“And we’ve got water here that Greensboro would love to have,” Scearce pointed out.
He also mentioned starting a small-business incubator to help those businesses expand.
Harris said that when the economy finally improves, “Everything is going to look different ... It’s going to take a lot of diversity.” He believes we will see a lot of self-employed people in the county.
Johnson especially is interested in the agriculture side of development. He mentioned agritourism, saying a lot of other counties are doing that now. These agriculture operations bring visitors to farms or ranches. Johnson also talked about the Pilot Mountain Pride agriculture center.
“That is limitless to how that can grow,” he said.
“We’ve got one of the most outstanding geographic locations in the eastern United States,” Golding noted.
Harris pointed out the county’s rich natural resources, including water. “And you have to look after that, too,” he said.
The commissioners listed education as another plus to job development. Johnson pointed out that the workforce development centers stationed around the county offer people the chance to further their careers or train for new ones.
“There’s no excuse to not further their education,” Johnson remarked.
“Our educational system is second to none,” remarked Golding.
Tourism plays a role
As diverse economic development ventures are needed in the county, so are tourism ventures. Scearce used the same “eggs in one basket” analogy when looking at tourism. If the county simply focuses on the Mayberry motif, Scearce wondered what will happen to that when his generation is dead and gone. He said the wine industry is good also but should not become the only focus.
Of tourism, Golding said, “That’s a fickle friend. When you’re strapped for cash, you don’t do a whole lot of tourism. You do a central thing.”
Johnson said the county has a good tourism industry. Scearce said a problem is that for many we are only a one-day destination. Harris pointed out that in this economy some people may only be able to take a one-day trip, and Surry County has a lot to offer.
Scearce said, “We’re the home of bluegrass. We need to capitalize on that.” He suggested the county having a music park.
Golding pointed out the large music park built in Roanoke Rapids a few years ago that flopped. He said some serious planning was needed before doing a project like that.
David Long, facilitator for the retreat, pointed out that Roanoke Rapids had no music tradition. “The difference is, you’ve got it built in the culture,” he said.
Johnson said building an auditorium or music center has been discussed in the past. “The funding has always been a problem ... If it came from the private sector, it would have a better chance,” he said.
Contact Meghann Evans at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1952.