Looking back, looking ahead

County eyes previous year and ahead to 2013
Jan. 03, 2013 @ 01:13 PM

Rutherford County officials focused on economic development in the previous year and, by the looks of things, will continue that into the new year.

The county saw the announcement of Horsehead Corporation's new plant in the southern section of Rutherford County and Valley Fine Foods announcing its East Coast expansion into Forest City.

In addition, the Facebook Data Center also started construction of a second building to accompany its main hub already in use.

"I look back on it and there were a lot of transitions, but the momentum was really kept up on economic development," said Carl Classen, Rutherford County manager.

As part of its economic development focus, the county hired Matt Blackwell, a native of Rutherford County, to serve as the new director of the Economic Development Commission.

Classen said that a significant amount of business undertaken by the county was to deal with an unemployment rate that hovered above 12 percent for most of the year.

"In addition to staffing up for economic development, the county has really invested in attempting to creating jobs and also help existing businesses move forward," Classen said.

Classen, who was hired in 2011 and started in February, did bring some changes along with the 2013 budget.

One of which was the county's new vehicle replacement plan which examines all vehicles in the county's fleet and sets up a rotation for replacing those vehicles.

In addition, the county also adopted a revenue-neutral tax rate after revaluation. But, Classen said that the issues taken up by county officials have dealt with more than just taxes and economic development.

The county also helped with further development of the Bechtler Mint site near Rutherfordton and installing restrooms at Frank West Park.

"It's not just economic development, but it is also quality of life issues," Classen said. "We have to continue to look at why people want to live in Rutherford County."

Other projects the county undertook in 2012 included approving a fire insurance rate plan, approving a $100,000 grant to build a metals pad at the landfill, Department of Social Services' implementation of the statewide NC FAST software, staffing the Lake Lure Visitor's Center through the Tourism Development Authority and establishing regular meetings with town mayors and managers regarding various projects in the county.

An additional task that Classen faced upon coming to Rutherford County was putting the county in a position of fiscal solvency. He said, currently, the county has a 28 percent fund balance.

"We feel comfortable with where we are," Classen said. "Moving forward, if the commissioners want to take advantage of new projects, they are in a position to look at some of those policy options in the coming year."

Heading into 2013, economic development and job creation will still be the focal point of county officials.

"In terms of the overall policy focus, jobs is our No. 1 focus and that is what the county commissioners have indicated to me," Classen said.

And, he said despite the fact that the county has a jump on economic development, there are still things the county will have to focus on to help the process in the new year.

"There are a lot of factors to that (economic development and job creation," Classen said. "We have to encourage the industry to look at new places for expansion. We also have to focus on the infrastructure that we have available."

In addition, Classen said that he will be pushing for a goal-setting session for county commissioners during their January meeting.

"It will help them come together and get a vision for what they want to do in 2013," Classen said. "It is critical for a group of five to come together and to that."