Column: What the future holds for Garner

08/08/2014 1:05 PM

08/08/2014 1:06 PM

Predicting the future in today’s post-recession world is a dangerous business. Ten years ago, one might have seen endless possibilities for Garner. By now, people might have assumed Garner would be a city approaching 35,000 people with scads of jobs, reasonably priced housing an a still important proximity to Raleigh, N.C. State University and the Research Triangle Park.

Of course no one could have seen the financial downturn that started in 2007 and mushroomed in 2008, bringing home foreclosures, big problems for developers and job losses like we haven’t seen in quite some time.

All that slowed Garner’s growth significantly, just as it did most other towns and cities in the region and across the country.

But that curve has hit bottom and started to trend upward again. New business development – some of it on a pretty massive scale – is picking back up and housing construction is beginning to rebound. Those two drivers are important for Garner because they generate jobs and they add to the town’s tax base, meaning the government can have more money to operate on without having to raise taxes.

So what’s next for Garner? Is the recent news about new development simply something that was already bubbling close to the surface before the recession? Or is this a sign of more good times to come?

N.C. State economist Michael Walden expects to see continued gains in some parts of the state, including the Triangle. But that progress won’t happen evenly across the state, he predicts. It won’t be quite like turning on a light switch and flooding a room with light. It’ll be more like watching stadium lights flicker back on after an outage. They pop on at very low light levels and slowly make their way to full power until they are burning brightly and illuminating the entire field of play.

My guess is, f the future growth patterns hold to historical paths, the largest cities and towns will likely see the good impacts of that trend first. Raleigh’s focus on downtown is paying off and it’s becoming a magnet for businesses that want to be near other successful, hip companies. The RTP continues to attract jobs and corporate relocations.

Over time, it stands to reason that smaller cities and towns will benefit from the magnetism of the region.

And, if Walden is correct that businesses are growing more confident, then that’s, honestly all the better. Hopefully, the batten-down-the-hatches approach of the last few years is fading away and companies may be willing to invest in new and existing employees, or even venture out to look for new opportunities in new places – like Garner. That makes it important for towns like Garner and communities like the Cleveland area in Johnston County to prepare for that possibility.

In Garner right now, the town is busy spending money from the 2013 bonds. That spending will go on for the next few years and, if, as town leaders hope, the plans were prioritized well, Garner should be ready to deal with the growth.

So here’s what you can count on in Garner in the near term: Public investment will continue. The town will continue to press forward with bond projects. Traditionally, private investment has followed public investment. We are starting to see some of that happen already. The key now is to continue to pursue those steady growth opportunities and hope the financial side of the economic recovery can keep pace.

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