Leading from the Left

Friday, March 30, 2007

Sustainable Economy

In an on-going effort to meet with citizens from different walks of life, so I can hear what's on their minds and learn more about Orange County, I met yesterday with a group of Southern Orange business leaders.

We talked for about an hour about Orange County's economic development plans, our Economic Development office, the job situation, affordability, the tax base, development rules, and host of other issues.

Aaron Nelson, Executive Director of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, raised serious concerns about our 'job future.' Aaron is worried that our high school students don't stay in Orange County when they graduate; that is, there is no real job future for them here. We send them off to college, say "bye-bye," and that's that. Aaron advocated for a more diverse job market place in which there are a wide variety of careers available for people from all walks of life.

Others in the room mentioned that far too many of our residents commute out of Orange County every day for work (including me). I heard a figure recently that 40% of our residence commute out for work every day and another 40% commute into OC.

There were also some excellent suggestions about how Orange County can do a better job of attracting business. Folks noted that our Economic Development Districts were designated 10 years ago and nothing has happened in any of them yet. The EDD at the intersection of Buckhorn Rd and I-85/40 was raised as a good example of a wasted opportunity. That EDD is superbly located along two major interstates and has excellent access to the rest of the Southeast. The location is exactly what businesses that need good distribution capabilities look for, someone noted. Why hasn't the water and sewer infrastructure been put in place yet so that EDD can thrive?

Jack Graham and others suggested that OC could do a better job marketing ourselves. They were frank in their assessment that Orange County has a reputation for being unfriendly to business which discourages businesses from locating here.

Orange County receives only about 12% of our tax revenue from commercial property taxes. Various folks suggested that we should articulate a clear goal to change that ratio. Attracting good commercial would help alleviate the tax burden from our residential property owners.

This was a good meeting. It's always helpful to me to hear from individuals...what do folks think we're doing well? What do they think could be done better? You'd be surprised how much you can learn when you simply ask people what's on their minds.