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Mount Airy has many positive qualities – including its location as a tourist destination, relatively low cost of living and infrastructure – but other factors, such as a lack of available housing and limited industrial sites, are holding it back economically.
These are among the findings of the Mount Airy Economic Vision Committee, a group made up primarily of local citizens with diverse business and leadership backgrounds who have been studying ways to promote growth for much of this year.
This is one of four “Vision” committees launched last December by Mayor Ron Niland to move the city forward in key areas such as economic development, downtown / small business growth and others. .
Chaired by members of city council, the groups submitted periodic reports on their recommendations, and on Thursday night it was the turn of the Economic Vision Committee chaired by Commissioner Jon Cawley.
The presentation, which took place at a meeting of the Mount Airy Board of Trustees, was chaired by committee members Will Pfitzner and Jay Lara.
“Everyone on this committee was very action-oriented,” said Pfitzner, explaining that his aim was to come up with specific measures for city officials to consider. He informed those in attendance that his business experience is limited to seven years of start-up experience as the owner of LazerEdge Designs, which specializes in handcrafted and custom wooden items.
Lara founded Carport Central, a very successful local business, in 2014 with her brother Albert.
Other committee members include Ben Webb, Ben Cooke, Andre Nance, Chris Lumsden, Shannon MacDonald and Martin Collins, the city’s director of community development.
“Behind each of these people and their diverse backgrounds lies a love for this community,” Pfitzner said of his discussions. “It always got back to the root of what’s best for the people who live here and for the future of this city.
Advantages and disadvantages
While identifying various benefits for Mount Airy, such as its sense of community and ongoing support programs (which existing and potential businesses might ignore), committee members believe local economic growth is hampered by a lack of housing. and financial resources.
Limited business / employment opportunities, workforce development and the city’s social media presence are also cited as weaknesses.
Comments during Thursday night’s presentation suggested that these elements tend to be intertwined, with one impacting the success of the other.
This includes the need to further develop the workforce.
“Everywhere I go I hear, ‘I don’t have the people to fill the available positions with us,'” Lara said of her interactions with other sales managers regarding a need also seen in her business. – “find qualified people.”
Providing incentives to businesses and educational institutions is seen as a solution, including scholarships and encouraging more training of the workforce to increase skills.
Some companies might not be aware of the incentives currently in place to help them and workers move forward, the presentation said.
Buildings, rare sites
In addition to supporting businesses already present, there are obstacles to attracting new ones to the city, the committee found, including a scarce real estate inventory.
“If I was a business or corporation looking to relocate to Mount Airy, what’s the first thing I would look at? Lara said in summing up a consensus question posed by committee members. “Where am I going to move my staff and my office? “
The lack of available buildings and sites is a major concern.
As for the city-owned industrial parks, two were discussed on Thursday evening, Westwood Industrial Park and Piedmont Triad West Business Park.
Although Westwood has 103 acres available, “it’s just land,” Lara said.
Prospects interested in moving to Mount Airy face challenges with such an undeveloped property. “It’s something we can look at,” Lara said, mentioning the leveling work to have the spaces level and make construction less of a problem there.
Piedmont Triad West, located at the southern end of town near Sheetz, has a few vacant classified lots, but these are more suited to small or medium-sized entities rather than large manufacturers, Lara said.
Having other parks ‘ready and available’ should be a goal of local officials in the future, he added while acknowledging that open land is limited for both industry and housing – especially within the existing city limits.
“Ownership was a big issue that we saw in the committee. “
An incoming company or already here that brings in staff from elsewhere also wants to ensure that safe and affordable housing awaits these employees, it was stressed during the presentation.
“Right now, as a company, we have to buy homes here to get our people to work,” Lara said of Carport Central.
“You wouldn’t think that a business actually has to buy property to bring its employees here from other states to work or train. “
This is something Carport Central has in common with the Northern Regional Hospital, said Lara, apparently learned through the presence of Lumsden, the hospital’s president and CEO, on the Vision committee. The hospital must also purchase condominiums and other homes for its new doctors and nurses, Lara said.
“Housing is definitely something we need to look at as a community,” he said of his role in economic development.
A short-term action plan identified by the committee calls for better use of the city’s inventory of industrial parks and housing and finding ways to address the shortage of these.
Proposed standing committee
The Mount Airy Economic Vision Committee believes that a definition of economic success should be identified for the city and plans made to achieve it by engaging the community “extensively” and working with existing groups.
An ultimate goal of economic success should be happiness, according to the presentation.
Members of the Vision committee, which is temporary in nature, also believe that city authorities should appoint a permanent economic development committee to help with this mission.
Commissioner Cawley said later in the meeting that he was “very encouraged” by the work of the Vision Group and is hopeful that City Council will establish the standing committee he mentioned.