Lee residents share opinions on economic strategic plan
The Lee County Board of Commissioners wrapped up three community outreach meetings this week, all centered around garnering input about the county's economic strategic plan.
The meetings — held in various parts of the county Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday — focused on providing a snapshot of where the county is and how it would like to move forward with regard to economic development, according to Southern Growth Policies Board Executive Director Ted Abernathy, one of the two facilitators of the meetings.
"What should happen with economic development?" Abernathy asked those assembled at Deep River Elementary School Tuesday. "It has been narrowly focused on [the manufacturing] industry, and we need to lay the groundwork and plan for major growth."
Each of the community meetings began with a PowerPoint presentation on key Lee County economic indicators and an overview of its demographics — including unemployment numbers.
The purpose of the meetings was twofold, according to Lee County Commissioner Chairman Charlie Parks.
"One, it helped us get the word out to the citizens so they can see what is going on," he said. "Nothing is hidden, no hidden agenda. And we've gotten some good, positive feedback and input that will help us in the long term for our strategies."
Lee County Commissioner Vice Chairman Kirk Smith said the feedback residents provided was beneficial, but that he was disappointed in the low turnout.
Attendees, numbering from 20 to 30 each night, were asked what should the economic priorities be for Lee County and what metrics could be used to achieve that goal.
Several residents in attendance said while recruiting new business was important to the economic health of the county, supporting existing businesses so they can grow and prosper should also be a priority.
Manufacturing and its role in the future of Lee County's economy was also discussed at length during the gatherings. More than 30 percent of Lee County's workforce is in manufacturing, according to N.C. State University Business and Technology Extension Service State Program Director Dan Parks, who was one of the two meeting facilitators.
Commissioner Jim Womack said the board members are interested in diversifying the county's economy, but manufacturing will play its part in the future.
"We recognize it is a strength," he said, "and it's a weakness when we have [an economic] downturn."
The Lee County Commissioners will review the draft plan in August and present the final strategic plan in September.