Late last year, N.C. State economist Mike Walden predicted that the Town of Zebulon was primed for growth. His comments were not surprising.
Zebulon has experienced 11.5 percent growth since 2010 and is expected to see more than 2 percent growth per year over the next five years. The town is fortunate to be located in the booming Triangle region, and a strong relationship with Glaxo SmithKline, US Foods, Nomaco/Nomacork, and other industries has helped us establish a thriving industrial and commercial business presence.
That said, every town in North Carolina has its challenges, and situated here in eastern Wake County, we have our own. The heavy dependence on industrial and commercial property for our property tax base, and the fact that most cities and towns in North Carolina lean heavily on the property tax for local revenues, subjects the town to swings in revenue based on the business cycle.
That is why we are encouraging, and experiencing, more residential development, by leveraging our relatively strong financial position now. To do so, though, requires municipal investment, as well as strong partnerships with both the private sector and other public sector actors.
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How are we making that happen? There’s a new sewer outfall line on the east side of town, opening up a large area to development; developer agreements for greenways, making areas more attractive to residents; facade grants and the streetscape match program for downtown businesses, boosting the look of our commercial areas and encouraging commerce; and forming a Unified Development Ordinance to steer different types of growth to the appropriate points in town.
We are proud of where we are in Zebulon, but there are similar successes occurring all across North Carolina. Municipal governments all around the state are taking the initiative to understand what their local economies need to succeed, and then taking action to make investments that lead to job and residential growth.
The North Carolina League of Municipalities is highlighting these successes with its Here We Grow campaign and its HereWeGrowNC.org website.
The reasons for this effort are simple: Local economic success stories require citizen support and understanding to happen, and not everyone makes the connections regarding how these local government investments become critical to a plant expansion, to the brew pub that opens downtown, or the entrepreneur who chooses to set down roots and build on an innovative business model.
Municipal governments also need the authority to pursue these projects, and any erosion of that authority affects their ability to pursue the unique visions of their residents and leverage the unique characteristics of their communities.
Cities and towns play a critical role in North Carolina’s economic growth. As we move forward at the local, state and federal level, we have to ensure that our municipalities can continue to play that role.
Bob Matheny is mayor of Zebulon and president of the N.C. League of Municipalities.