Lincolnton’s City Council members have recognized that they need a long-term plan if they want to help shepherd the city’s future growth. That plan needs to be thorough and innovative, with a focus on what the city needs most — jobs.
The council met on Wednesday for a special meeting to discuss the city’s strategic plan, and the outcome was four key initiatives: improving nightlife and attracting new businesses, improving city services, the creation of an industrial recruitment plan and the creation of a Human Relations Council tasked with promoting diversification within the city’s workforce and improving communications between the city and other governing bodies and citizens.
The most important piece of that puzzle is the industrial recruitment plan. The city needs jobs, water customers and tax dollars. Industry can meet all of those needs.
City leaders mentioned the difficulties presented by the state’s county-by-county tier system for tax credits and economic incentives, and their hope is to work with legislators to find solutions to those problems. That concern isn’t unfounded, but it’s unlikely that the state is going to make exceptions just because Lincolnton’s economic growth isn’t keeping pace with the county.
The North Carolina Department of Commerce divides counties into three categories — Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3. Tier 1 counties are the most economically distressed counties in the state, Tier 3 counties are the least distressed. Lincoln County moved from Tier 2 to Tier 3 last year, according to a report issued by the state in November 2013, thanks to a countywide increase in property tax base per capita, an improvement in the county unemployment rate and an increase in median household income from $45,332 to $50,746.
That’s all well and good but, while the situation may be improving for the county as a whole, the same cannot be said for the city.
Median household income in the city is just over $30,000, compared to $46,400 statewide. Over 26 percent of city residents are living below the poverty level. Less than 15 percent of county residents fit that criterion.
Since the tier system is based upon the economic reality in the state’s counties, distressed cities in prosperous counties are going to suffer.
Lincolnton may have to reach into its own pockets to make up for the shortfall.
The city could provide its own incentives to industry, while possibly tying those incentives to the company’s longevity in the city — the longer a business commits to stay in the city, the better the deal it gets. If a business balks at that stipulation, or that requirement isn’t feasible, the city may have to just acquiesce and offer incentives anyway. That’s what the situation dictates.
When the city is home to businesses that employ the people who live here, the rest of the city’s strategic plan initiatives will be much easier to achieve.