Lawmakers Struggle with
Garden Parkway offers country's best chance to spur economic growth
The headline in the Charlotte Observer read “Gastonia, Charlotte Grow Parallel More Than Together.” Then the caption beneath a map depicting the growth trends said “Catawba River Is Barrier To Gastonia-Charlotte Megapolis.”
This could easily have been a story that ran no more than four days ago.
But it wasn’t.
It ran more than four decades ago – April 5, 1970 to be precise.
While a lot has happened to the growth of the Charlotte metro area in the intervening 42 years, not much of it has occurred in Gaston. In fact, a new U.S. Census Bureau report shows the Charlotte urban area grew 64.6 percent between 2000 and 2010, making it our country’s fastest growing region with a population over one million. During that same period, Gaston County grew 8.3 percent. Without Gaston weighing it down, the region’s growth would have been several percentage points higher.
Without question, Charlotte has been the engine of growth that has caused itself, and its surrounding counties, to blossom with economic development. All except Gaston, that is.
Dr. John Connaughton, a UNCC economics professor, studied this issue last spring and concluded the reason Gaston hasn’t ridden on Charlotte’s coattails is that we have considerably less access and connectivity to the growth engine. All you have to do to validate that conclusion is to look at a roadmap of the region.
What difference does it make that we have not had a strong growth in population or jobs? (In fact, we’ve not only had no growth in jobs, we have 3,150 fewer employed than we had in 1974). But so what?
The economic wellbeing of an entity depends hugely on growth, whether that entity be a company, a family’s paycheck or a community. No growth means eventual stagnation.
But as a practical matter, what does economic stagnation mean for Gaston County?
It means less new housing is built, which means houses are older and have more than a 25 percent lower tax value than any other of the Metro Charlotte counties, which means our tax rate is consistently within the highest 10 percent of North Carolina counties.
Without the higher value housing, we have had little success attracting the higher income and educated newcomers moving to and within the Charlotte area, which means we have had practically no office type development (despite this being one of the metro area’s most successful growth segment) and consultants tell us our lack of success is likely to continue absent a major catalyst.
With scant job growth, we have nearly 20,000 adults either unemployed or underemployed. Without a major impetus, this situation will persist far into the future. If you happen to be one of those nearly 20,000, this is highly important to you. But it’s also important to you if you’re raising a family and would like to see your children raise their families in your same community. Where are they going to get the good jobs you aspire for them? Absent some major economic impetus, not here.
A recently released report on health outcomes placed Gaston in the bottom 25 percent of North Carolinas counties in terms of healthfulness. The report makes a linkage between the healthfulness of a community and its wealth. Income and wealth in Gaston lag all other metro counties by a large margin.
I see nothing happening in this county that could have the positive impact on growth and economic development as could the completion of the Garden Parkway. But I have not been advocate for this project for the sake of building a road, but rather for effect the resultant growth would have on the livability of our citizens.
And most of our political and business leaders agree. The Garden Parkway has been endorsed by the boards of the Economic Development Commission, The Greater Gaston Chamber, the Montcross Chamber, the Transportation Advisory Council of the Gaston Metropolitan Planning Organization, not by a simple majority, but by unanimous votes in all cases. These are the people in the best position to understand that transportation infrastructure is a precondition for growth and development.
Unfortunately, we have a couple of sitting politicians, and a few wannabes demagoguing the parkway. They believe, and apparently correctly, they will be able to garner votes with that position.
I guess it’s easy to be opposed to building a road. But it’s not easy to be opposed to economic growth and vitality. These anti candidates should be asked what they would do to spur economic growth in Gaston – and to be specific. And don’t accept a generic answer like reduce taxes – while that arguably would help, that would have to be done collectively by their colleagues and their individual roles would be minimal.
But they individually could kill the parkway and send those already designated dollars to a similar project in another county.
"Garden Parkway offers country's best chance to spur economic growth" by Duane McCallister originally appeared in the Gaston Gazette on April 22, 2012. Visit Gaston Gazette to read more.