We recently visited with County Manager Mike Downs, who has spent more than three decades serving Cabarrus County, and asked him about highlights from 2016, the county’s economic landscape and plans for 2017.
Q: You recently celebrated your 30th anniversary with Cabarrus County, moving up the ranks from zoning inspector to County Manager. Tell us about some of the positive changes you’ve seen and how Cabarrus County has adapted to challenges and growth.
A: Our economy was once supported by the textile and tobacco industries, but that has changed over the years, partly due to a conscientious effort by elected officials to aggressively seek a diversification of our local economy. Their efforts have proven to be very successful and our local and regional economies have improved as our industrial base has grown to include large and small industries. Both are very important to our community and our efforts to maintain a responsible tax rate.
Additionally, Cabarrus County’s tremendous growth started a rush of single-family residential units, which created the need for additional schools in an expedient manner. The Board of Commissioners works hard to keep up the funding of school capital. This residential growth has been maintained for many years and the need for more schools continues. Another positive result about our growth is that the county and its municipalities have been able to maintain their identities while embracing their growth.
Q: How are businesses benefiting from local economic development efforts?
A: Cabarrus County and its municipalities (Concord, Kannapolis, Harrisburg, Midland and Mount Pleasant) partner with Cabarrus Economic Development on efforts to recruit new industry and retain and grow existing businesses. Their efforts and the support of all our elected officials have made a positive impact on both these areas. Cabarrus County continues to assist existing and prospective businesses to flourish right here – in our county. Factors that play a major role in our ability to attract new industries and allow others to expand include workforce development efforts of our school systems and Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, geographic proximity to Charlotte, access to two major interstate highways, Economic Development Grant Program and a community of individuals who want to learn and work hard.
Q: What are some of the highlights of the 2016 Community Survey and report on CabCo’s the Way to Go?
A: The survey is important because it lets us know where we stand in the eyes of our residents. We’ve discovered that Cabarrus County has set the standard when it comes to quality of services. It also showed we outperformed the national average in 10 areas, rating significantly higher in all areas of customer service. We’re very proud of the work and dedication of our employees who make this happen.
We’re also proud of the quality of life measures. Residents are “very satisfied” or “satisfied” with Cabarrus County as a place to live, raise children, retire and work. In each of these categories, residents ranked our county above the U.S. average. Directly supporting these measures, residents want the county to continue its emphasis on safety response, crime prevention and educational facilities. As for areas of improvement, residents want us to increase emphasis on open space preservation, protection of water quality and the environment, pace of growth and employment opportunities.
Q: What’s on tap for 2017 with regard to new construction and infrastructure or road improvements?
A: We have several exciting projects in the works. The county is currently completing phase I of the Rob Wallace Park in Midland. Official opening of the park will take place on Jan. 21, with a park dedication ceremony held in April. We’re also currently funding construction of three new schools (Mount Pleasant Middle School, Kannapolis Middle School and Royal Oaks Elementary School), which are scheduled to open in August. Land has been purchased for the new high school and we are in search of property for the next elementary school. Plans for a new downtown Kannapolis parking deck are also underway, with construction starting late this year. An update of our feasibility study for the new county courthouse is nearing completion and will soon be presented to the Board of Commissioners. Finally, we have several capital improvements planned for our park system.
Q: What is the best thing about living in Cabarrus County?
A: It’s a vibrant, growing community with excellent schools, plentiful arts and entertainment opportunities and beautiful landscapes. Although the county continues to grow daily, it has been able to hold on to its valued heritage and friendly atmosphere.
Q: Finish this sentence: “Cabarrus County is a place where businesses …”
A: “… are welcomed with open arms.” The Board of Commissioners has made it a priority to create an environment where businesses can locate and expand in a timely and cost-effective manner. In addition, Cabarrus County has a variety of amenities that provide for learning, entertainment and relaxation opportunities for their employees and families.