Amazing local cure for economic development

Matthew Block - Contributing columnist

Last week, the latest NC unemployment figures were released. Scotland County ranked highest in the state. Out of 100 counties, we are “that” county, number 100. Over the last 10 years, we have 1,500 less jobs than we had in 2006.

I am a newly appointed member of the Scotland County Economic Development Corporation (EDC). The EDC is the entity that recruits industry to come to Scotland County. I can honestly report that there are currently no likely prospects coming to Scotland County.

In related news, did you know that all three $112,000 per year assistant superintendents for Scotland County Schools don’t live in Scotland County? Did you know that five out of the six hospitalists at Scotland Memorial Hospitalist, with combined salary of over $1 million, don’t live in Scotland County? Did you know the City of Laurinburg just hired a new director who, after being hired, moved from Hoke County to….Moore County?

These examples above are not meant to threaten jobs or incur public outcry. They are meant to highlight a much bigger problem and what I believe is the key to economic development.

Forty percent of the 400 Scotland County Schools teachers live out of the county, more than 50% of the physicians at Scotland Memorial Hospital live elsewhere, as do a sizeable percentage of nurses, and many city and county employees choose to live outside our county as well. By conservative estimate, the total number of employees from these community-owned entities living outside Scotland County is approximately 500.

The average salary of these 500 is very good, around $60,000 to 75,000 per year. These numbers do not include the hundreds of local plant workers, supervisors and prison guards who live elsewhere.

But, of course, we have no control over that.

What would be the impact on our local economy and employment if they all lived here?

Those 500 workers have a payroll of approximately $30 million. Disposable income for salaries in this range is approximately 33% of salary. That could be up to $10 million spread around the county. But that’s not all. If we say that those 500 workers have an average of one child per household, then 500 new students come to Scotland County Schools.

Each child brings approximately $10,000 of state funding for another $5 million coming into the County. If those 500 employees lived here, our unemployment rate would drop to 8.7% — still highest but we would be tied with two other counties. But think of the number of local jobs created by $45 million of payroll. They buy houses, eat at restaurants, shop downtown etc. It would be fair to say, if these 500 people lived here, our unemployment rate would be far from the worst in the state.

If the board members of the schools, the hospital, the county and city want to fix unemployment here, the answer is not going to come from the Scotland County Economic Development Corporation. More likely, it will come from a shared 10-year vision of how to get people to want to live here. The board members must direct their superintendent, their hospital CEO, their county and city managers that this is a vital community priority. Just as importantly, these board members have to develop a shared vision of making Scotland County a place people choose to live.

We can call this vision “Scotland Rising” — to cure economic development woes. To borrow some of the better ideas I have heard, instead of spending $52 million on a new school and new city hall, why not improve the historic downtown by making it a one-way street which would cost about $3 million, renovating Market Furniture Building into a Scotch micro-brewery — around $2 million. Turning the Central Hotel into an African American museum — roughly $2 million, building a recreation center, which would run about $4 million, a state-of-the-art early college building on St. Andrews Campus would cost about $15 million, a competitive industrial spec building about $2 million investing in the downtowns of Gibson, Wagram and Maxton roughly $3 million and the list goes on.

An economic development expert once said, “Hope itself is not a strategy.” A vision and a plan are needed. The new reality in economic development is that ‘no longer do people live where the jobs are, but, rather, the jobs are where people live.’

That explains, to a large degree, why Moore County’s unemployment is 33rd best and Scotland’s 100th.

Matthew Block

Contributing columnist

Matthew Block serves as mayor of Laurinburg. He writes a bi-weekly column on the city and municipal issues.

Matthew Block serves as mayor of Laurinburg. He writes a bi-weekly column on the city and municipal issues.

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