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Economic Plan Critiqued By Local Leaders

A plan for providing a blueprint for the region’s economic future was met with mixed feelings from community members Tuesday. Future Forward, a project that will create a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS), aims to look at the economy and ask “What’s next?,” said Barry Matherly, a member of the leadership committee and executive director of the Lincoln Economic Development Association. The study is designed to provide the foundation for successfully transforming the economy of a 12-county region. Furniture and textiles – industries that have been the bedrock of the economy in the area – have faltered, Matherly said. “We’re not abandoning those industries, but we’re trying to look out 20 years from now and say ‘What’s going to be powering the economy?’” he said. The Future Forward committee, made up of 21 members appointed by U.S. Rep. Cass Ballenger of Hickory, conducted interviews, received input from community workshops and used research from UNC-Charlotte to aid them in the creation of the plan. Officials say the project will result in a region defined by skilled people, innovative firms, economic diversity, desirable places and smart governance. The plan has six strategic themes: Collaborative leadership and governance. This would create a network of “super-regional” organizations based to implement regional strategies built on existing organizations or strategic alliances of existing institutions. Scale and connectivity. This would involve identifying transportation corridors as the main focus for future planned development and targeted infrastructure projects that tie the region together. Work force prepared for 21st century work. A media campaign would be conducted to increase the local value of education, and an improved people-to-job matching information system would be developed. Innovation and Entrepreneurship. A Learning and Innovation Center that provides programs and facilities required to foster technology based economic development would be established. Targeted marketing and development. A market research study would be conducted, and a “mega-development” project and a “high-end” technology park would be promoted. “Connected and Creative” living. A taskforce would be established to encourage a planned development and strategic outdoor amenities. Darrell Gettys, vice president of district operations for Rutherford EMC and LEDA treasurer, voiced concerns about equal representation on the different proposed committees. If the committees are not chosen carefully and do not have good inclusion, input and representation from all areas of the 12-county area, “it would flaw the whole process,” he said. Gettys also pointed out a possible “regional effect,” which could result in the majority of the projects happening outside of Lincoln County. Others were concerned about an overlap in what the Employment Security Commission does and the proposed people-to-job matching system. Questions were raised about the possible Learning and Innovation Center and how it would affect community colleges. Ideas gathered from the six forums throughout the region will be taken to the Future Forward committee and used to refine and finalize the plan.