November 2010 Highlights

North Carolina's #1--again. The release of new annual national business climate rankings gives me a chance to reflect on some important local policy issues.

Business climate rankings: I rarely lead one of my monthly updates with anything other than very Winston-Salem-specific news, but this item of statewide significance provides an ideal chance to make some important local policy observations. The news item is this: For the ninth time in the past ten years, North Carolina has been named the nation's "Top Business Climate" for the year, according to new and expanded business facilities data and a survey of corporate site selectors nationwide. Winston-Salem's recent series of positive economic moves (e.g., Caterpillar selection, Pepsi expansion, Research Park expansion) are examples of this job-producing status. Just as importantly, we need to be aware of why our state (and city) are considered top places to do (and expand) business.

The survey results, featured in Site Selection magazine, list the top three location considerations as workforce skills, transportation infrastructure, and state and local tax schemes. Utility infrastructure, regulatory environment, education systems, and land/building costs and availability are also in the mix, along with incentives and governmental economic development strategy. From the perspective of making good policy at the local level, I find several takeaway points key to remember:

  • Tax structure and rates are very important, but they're not the only critical factor--and our current rates and structure are clearly considered reasonable by the national business community.
  • Adequate transportation infrastructure is critical. We must continue our local emphasis on developing and modernizing a balanced transportation system.
  • Education and other quality of life factors are fundamental as well. To attract and keep business, we must have excellent schools, universities, and an environment where skilled and educated citizens want to live.

Put together, these factors reinforce the case for moderate, responsible policies. Taxes must be reasonable, but we must also pay for our infrastructure and education systems. Regulations must be reasonable, but also never so weak that we jeopardize our natural resources or public health and safety. Moderation, consistency and sustained attention to detail are vital. If business climate is a topic of particular interest to you, you can read the full Site Selection article and rankings at http://www.siteselection.com/portal/.

Caterpillar groundbreaking: In November, we observed the formal groundbreaking for Caterpillar's new manufacturing plant in Winston-Salem. This completely new, multi-hundred-million-dollar facility will start with concrete foundations 10 to 20 feet thick. The plant has to be that solidly built to support the weight of the equipment and processes it will contain. It will assemble the drive trains for industrial equipment, as part of a multi-state integrated manufacturing process with a global market. It's not a facility driven by casually shifting consumer preferences, and represents an investment not lightly relocated. As with any one facility, in a community our size it is only part of a comprehensive economic strategy, but it is also one that should be here for a long time.

Leaf collection underway: Leaf collection is done by geographic area, with the city divided into four quadrants. This year, collection rounds start in quadrant 4, the northern part of the city, and work clockwise around the city. Most of the Southwest Ward is in quadrant 2, the southern/southwestern part of the city. Collection round one (of three rounds scheduled) started November 1 and has been completed. Collection round two is underway now. As of today (Nov. 23), the estimated start date for collection in quadrant 2 is November 30. For a daily update of leaf collection progress, go to http://www.cityofws.org/Home/Departments/Sanitation/Articles/LeafRoutes.

Ardmore post office update: Negotiations for a lease extension for the Ardmore post office branch are underway now between the postal service and WFU/BMC. Discussions between those institutions were successfully re-started by Rep. Dale Folwell, myself, and representatives from the Ardmore Neighborhood Association and U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx's office. A short-term extension of the branch's lease has been agreed to, through June 2011. Boxholders at the Ardmore branch have received a notice that the branch is tentatively set to close at that time. However, if a longer-term lease is negotiated, that will change. In the meantime, the postal service has asked boxholders whether they wish to have their box leases extended after that time. The deadline for response to that inquiry is December 3. Those of us who are working to have the Ardmore station remain open recommend that boxholders respond to that inquiry. We suggest indicating that you wish to retain your box, even if it moves to the center city branch, but also adding a handwritten note that your preference is to retain the box at an Ardmore location.

Little Creek Park playground: At our November 15 meeting, the city council gave final approval to the contract for construction of a new playground at Little Creek Park. As users of that park know, the playground there was temporarily closed due to concerns about safety of the old equipment. The new playground should be installed in 2011.

Traffic calming results: Monitoring by the city Transportation Department indicates that the new traffic calming islands on Lockland Avenue are having the desired effect of slowing average speed through that area. Based on data collected at various points along the project length, average traffic speeds have been reduced by two to five miles per hour compared to pre-project conditions. That may sound modest, but keep in mind it's an average speed reduction, including the drivers who were already obeying the posted speed limits. That translates to a significant drop in the number of problem drivers through this section. (Naturally, nothing can completely eliminate fools from the road, but this is a help.)

New speed studies are currently underway on Birchwood Drive and Ebert Street, among other locations.

CWSU applications: Applications are being accepted now for the next class of "City of Winston-Salem University", which gives citizens a better understanding of city departments and functions, and how they work. Topics covered include city governance and finance, sanitation and utilities operations, streets and transportation, public safety, and more. The next class will run each Thursday evening for three hours, from February 3 through April 18. Applications are due December 31 by 5 p.m. For more details and an application, go to http://www.cityofws.org/Home/Departments/MarketingAndCommunications/CWSU/Articles/CWSUniversity.

Young Dreamers Awards: Do you know a young adult (age 18 to 40) whose work has made a tangible difference in the lives of people in our community who have been ignored or disadvantaged? Then you may know someone who deserves to be nominated for the Human Relations Commission's "Young Dreamers" award. These awards are announced each year during the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., day in January. Nominations are open to the public and must be received by December 4. For details, go to http://www.cityofws.org/Home/Departments/HumanRelations/Articles/MLKJrYoungDreamersAward.