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Article 48
Published: Thursday, April 2, 2009 at 5:57 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 2, 2009 at 5:57 p.m.

Commissioners mull ideas to grow local businesses

By Seth Stratton
The Dispatch

Davidson County government doesn’t have the resources or money to craft its own stimulus package, but that doesn’t mean the county can’t do other things to help grow area businesses in the current economic recession.

Commissioner Sam Watford, at a Davidson County Board of Commissioners informational meeting Thursday morning, presented his colleagues with a one-page list titled: “What can our local government do to improve Davidson County’s business environment?” The goal of the list is to expand existing or land new businesses in the county, Watford said. And the ideas range from expediting the planning and zoning process to waiving or reducing different fees to cutting or eliminating property taxes.

“I’ve never seen you this enthused on anything,” Commissioner Billy Joe Kepley said. “It would be a great step forward for the people who have been forgotten who are actually the backbone in our economy in the county … I think you’d be surprised by how many would be on board with this. In the long run, it would be great progress in our tax base. Full speed ahead.”

Watford proposed the county work with municipalities, utilities and other agencies to lessen the financial impact on businesses looking to start up or expand and make the process more “user friendly.”

“I tried not to use the word ‘stimulus’ or ‘reinvestment act’ or ‘recovery’ or anything like that,” Watford said. “We can actually help the businessman. And I’m not just talking about the big business with fancy employees — the man who mows yards is a businessman, fixing hair, we’re all business people. And that’s what it takes at this time. We all have to work on it together.”

The commissioner said he has read through part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus bill and identified money that potentially could be used to help re-open factories.

“We got plants in Thomasville, that, when they shut the doors down, not the Thomasville Furniture (Industries) plants, the smaller ones, all the machinery is still there, they just shut the doors,” Watford said. He said the county could partner to bring together the owners of the facilities with displaced skilled workers who know how to operate the equipment.
He also suggested the county prioritize business over residential construction projects and have the county planning and zoning department approve permits and other necessary documents as fast as they can. County Planning Director Guy Cornman said his staff has to work within certain statutory guidelines that often require the county to advertise for and hold public hearings for zoning and construction issues.
Watford also suggested the board could hold public hearings at its regular meetings on the second and fourth Tuesdays of every month instead of the first Monday of each month to expedite business growth. He also suggested the county board hold special meetings or meet in July, a month the board typically takes off, to make sure business projects are not held up in procedural processes.

“It’s a long, drawn-out process to get anything built in this county,” Watford said. “It takes at least two months. If somebody comes in and wants to do something, I’m saying let’s prioritize it.”

The commissioner also said he would consider a one-year moratorium on property taxes for any new machinery or equipment purchases and a 50 percent reduction in property taxes for five years for any new nonresidential or institutional construction, regardless of job creation.

“Our economic development efforts have always been tied to job creation,” he said. “Everything’s tied to how many, number of jobs, how long. If you got a building in this county or any kind of business and are fixing to buy equipment or add on to that building, it’s going to help the county. You may not hire anybody that day but somebody’s going to get helped, no question about it.”

Steve Googe, executive director of the Davidson County Economic Development Corporation, who recently returned from a business trip to Europe, said the German government has provided land and half the cost to build machines at several new plants in eastern Germany, and companies are flocking there. Googe suggested commissioners explore tying any new or extra incentives package plans to the unemployment rate.

Watford said the board would need to receive information from the county tax and legal departments to find out what kind of impact that would have on county revenues before it made a decision to implement tax cuts. Commissioner Cathy Dunn commended Watford on his ideas and said a pro-business attitude can do nothing but help the county.

“It doesn’t cost you anything to have nice people that will say, ‘Here, we’ll help you,’” Dunn said.

Watford encouraged municipalities and utilities to waive or cut their impact or tap fees and suggested the county offer a type of extra incentive to anyone who refurbishes an existing empty building to put back on the tax books, even if it is as simple as using the facility as a warehouse. He used the example of Greensboro-based DDC Investments’ purchase of the former Stanley Furniture plant on West Center Street in March as an example. DDC Investments is a division of D.H. Griffin Companies.

“We can’t get involved in trying to keep businesses alive like they’re doing in Washington right now,” Watford said. “In my opinion, I’m free enterprise all the way. But there’s little things we can do as a government. If you can make it through this mess right now, then I feel like we ought to be able to help you expand.”

Commissioner Dr. Max Walser was excused from the meeting.

In other news, the board:

• Received an update from county Human Resources Director Jim Tysinger who explained to commissioners that employee health care costs for the 2009-10 fiscal year would be rising close to 6 percent from $5.9 million to $6.1 million next year. Tysinger said the county would pay for approximately $5.1 million of those costs while employees chipped in the remaining $1 million through premiums, co-payments and other user fees.

• Was asked to partner with the U.S. Census Bureau for the 2010 census that will take place next year. Kathy Murphy, a partnership specialist with the bureau, said next year’s census will be shorter — about 10 questions — than previous surveys. Census workers ask how many people live in a household, the first and last name, gender, date of birth, race and relationship to the head of household of each person. Murphy encouraged county residents to mail in their surveys for more accurate results.

Census data determines congressional districting, federal distributions for schools, hospitals and roads and other pertinent information. Murphy said her office was flooded with job requests for census workers and they have enough people at this time. However, Murphy said there may be some new jobs available in the fall. Job openings will be posted on the www.2010census.gov Web site.

• Scheduled a public hearing on a Justice Assistance Grant application by the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office. DCSO Maj. Brian Grubb said the office is applying for $104,000 in federal stimulus funds. The office would use the money to pay for 10 laptop computers in patrol cars, 10 software packages for those computers, canine tracking software, 10 computer stands for the mobile laptops, four digital camcorders, 2,000-feet of 8-foot-tall barbed-wire fence to surround the firing range and training facility and eight digital cameras for patrol lieutenants and sergeants.
• Removed two items from the agenda. One was an issue about tax discounts and the other was a personnel matter that was originally scheduled to be heard in closed session.

The commissioners’ next regular meeting is set for April 14 at 7 p.m. on the fourth floor of the Davidson County Governmental Center.

Seth Stratton can be reached at 249-3981, ext. 226, or seth.stratton@the-dispatch.com.

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