#ThrowbackThursday: February 21, 2008

With permission, The Beacon is archiving past issues of Matthews Record (also called Matthews News and Record and The Matthews News) articles online. Throwback Thursday articles will include relevant content still facing Matthews today. This story was originally published February 21, 2008 and was written by Janet Denk.

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Economic Development in Matthews: Become proactive

Monday’s meeting at Town Hall highlights passion and perplexity around the topic

Matthews’ tax base is one of the town’s strongest suits and is the envy of neighboring communities. With the intention of maintaining a healthy blend of residential and commercial mix, the town staff hired a consultant to walk them through the process.

Their findings: A person or entity, hired by the town, and working with the Chamber, the Board, and an Advisory Board made up of community and business leaders, to proactively seek out development opportunities currently going to places like Ballantyne.

A joint meeting held Monday at Town Hall brought up a recurring them. Less dependence on residential and more on quality commercial projects, such as large offices which lure professional companies. The theory? Such employment centers would attract major employers that would live, work, and invest in the town.

A nasty word through this process has been “retail,” which flustered many local businesses who have followed this process. Several downtown landowners attended and worried about being overshadowed by the concept of major developers calling the bulk of the shots.

Bigger is not always better, was landowner Mary Yandel’s sentiment.

“People at Town Hall have a tendency to make decisions from their offices. They talk about all this vacant land or ‘potential land’ and ‘land use,’ as if they own it.”

As if, Yandel went on to explain, the landowners and their property and businesses are inconsequential.

A landowning individual from Riggsbee Salon on N. Trade was perplexed by the lack of discussion on property in downtown Matthews, particularly “retail,” which she said includes over a half-dozen individual tenants.

“Looking to our east [at Pineville], we can see what a heavy commercial tax base looks like,” pointed out Mayor Lee Myers, who attended the meeting, along with the entire Board of Commissioners, the Town Manager, and many department heads. “Looking to our west [at Mint Hill] we can see the effects of too residential tax base.”

Besides the tax base issue, the most important reason to invest in an Economic Development position, many said, would be that the Town would have a dedicated “Go To” person who can provide guidance to the town, and the developers interested in setting up shop in Matthews.

“We know the needs of businesses looking for a place to land,” said Matthews Chamber of Commerce Director Tina Whitley, “because we get the phone calls all the time. To have someone in a position to work with these inquiries would be great!”

Frank Warren, who facilitated the meeting, emphasized the function of an economic developer.

“They would not be making land use decisions, that’s the Planning Board’s function. They would not replace the Chamber of Commerce, as they have a distinct role in business development. This is about Matthews providing a place to do business and it’s about having someone in an advocacy role who can let all these other departments do their job.”

But many landowners and businesses in Matthews, particularly downtown, remain adamant about broadening discussions with regard to zoning and development. One of those is Jim Johnson who envisions, like many others, the downtown as an urban village with real businesses allowing local residents to do commonplace things.

“My benchmark for success will be when I can work, live, play, and shop without having to get in a car,” he said. “Walking and biking around the core of Matthews should be commonplace.”

Admittedly partial to downtown, Johnson speaks for many others, inside and outside the business community who reiterate the notion that Matthews leaders make creative development difficult.

“If we want to further economic development in Matthews,” Johnson said, “my advice would be to re-read the Vision Statements, re-write our zoning ordinance (to allow for more innovative development), talk witht eh landowners in our urban core and see what’s on their minds when it comes to development, and create the ED committee out of staff, commissioners, business owners, and developers.”

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Common curiosities about economic development

Q. Why discuss economic development in Matthews?

A. The Town of Matthews has a healthy blend of non-exempt ad valorem tax base with 66% residential and 34% commercial and is seeking a plant to maintain this balance. The strategic economic development currently being studied in Matthews is focusing on the vacant land around the I-485 and Independence Interchange. The goal is to strengthen Matthews’ economic muscle and positioning itself on a broader employment playing field. Matthews has a lot to offer high-end employment centers, but there isn’t an entity in town that actively “recruits” potential investors. By attracting the right projects, the town will reap the tax base that comes from commercial tax revenues, which in turn will feed the local economy and contribute to the quality of work and life.

Q. We already have company headquarters in town? Why Invest in luring more?

A. Matthews location off the interstate, along with its fine quality of life can be a major draw for large industries. As southern Mecklenburg County and northern Union County continue to grow, Matthews is missing out on some major investors who want to take advantage of the airport, weather, cost of living, and general economy. Within ten years, maybe less, Independence Blvd. will become a limited-use freeway, making the need for redevelopment of land and property along that corridor equally important.

Q. Is this a one-time event or does it have an ongoing purpose?

A. Economic development provides activities and programs aimed at improving the local and regional economies. It helps to attract and create opportunities, which help to expand the tax base, increase jobs, wages, and personal incomes.

Economic development plans can cause a “ripple effect".” From their impact springs a range of related commercial activities and services. For example, Presbyterian Hospital of Matthews has served as an economic engine for medical offices and support services surround it at Sam Newell and Highway 51. The proposed Small Area Plan adjacent to the future Mecklenburg County Sportsplex in the target area mentioned above will spawn a wide variety of recreational businesses, hotels, restaurants, and other tourism and commercial enterprises.

Historic downtown Matthews is in dire need of special attention, as business owners see long term success and residents have access to meaningful shopping to compliment the outlying areas. Discussions are underway about supporting (and growing) useful and relevant development such as food stores and services like cafes, boutiques, restaurants, retail, and residential.