City council sets new long-term priorities

Jan. 29, 2014 @ 08:57 AM

The construction of a medeival cathedral makes a great analogy for public projects, as the individuals who start the project know that they will never see the finished product.

This idea permeated Lenoir's biannual city retreat, where the city council and staff set their priorities for the next two years.

The analogy was raised by guest speaker Scott Hamilton, the president and CEO of economic-development group Advantage West, who cited the cathedral in Cologne, Germany. He said the designers knew they wouldn't be alive when construction was started, workers labored though they'd never see it completed, and that is the mentality public officials should adopt when setting long-term goals.

Hamilton spoke Monday night, the first day of the two-day retreat at the J.E. Broyhill Civic Center, on strategies and trends in economic development in Western North Carolina, saying that cities like Lenoir need to use diverse strategies draw more business.

One of the main points of Hamilton's presentation was the incubating of a business climate that encourages entrepreneurs, a new priority the city officials set as they expanded upon previously set priorities of marketing, business site development and improving the appearance of the city's main arteries. More tweaking will come next month at the city's annual budget retreat.

In supporting entrepreneurs, city officials hope to use strategies like waiving the first year of city fees and other incentives to lure new businesses to the city, especially in vacant downtown buildings.

The city's priority of marketing now encompasses the effort to market the city to local residents and potential visitors, establish a social marketing campaign, create a package of updated print material, and a strategy to improve community engagement and partnerships with organizations such as Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corp., Google and Bernhardt Furniture.

Appearance of the city's arteries now has an expanded scope as well, including the city's greenway and potential links to the Overmountain Victory Trail. This priority has fueled the improvements on Harper Avenue and Smith Crossroads in the last two years, and the area of focus will now shift to North Main Street, where the city plans to begin more strictly enforcing codes and evaluating the streets and buildings in the area.

Another facet of improving arteries will be to encourage new business construction on U.S. 321 and other main thoroughfares in the city to enhance their curb appeal.

Business site development remains a focal point in the city's priorities, given the number of empty buildings in the city. Hamilton said new businesses look for vacant buildings most, but an empty lot that's ready to go also could be attractive.

A site on College Avenue and Virginia Street is a product of the city's continued priority of developing potential business sites, a lot that qualifies for a $200,000 Brownfields Cleanup grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, used to clean up former manufacturing sites contaminated with petroleum or other chemicals. Sites such as this, Hamilton said, draw in businesses and promote an image of environmental responsibility, which can also draw business.