On Thursday, April 18, Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Alan Branson gave the 2019 State of the County address to a cable television audience and to those who gathered at the Old Guilford County Court House to hear it. To sum it up in two words used in the speech, Branson is “cautiously optimistic” about the current state of the county and its economy.
In the speech, which lasted for about 15 minutes at the very start of the board’s regular meeting, Branson both looked back at the past year and ahead at the coming year. The speech was a very thorough and well thought out summation of where Guilford County government currently is and where it intends to go.
Branson began by thanking everyone watching and by recognizing his fellow commissioners on the nine-member board. He said he was very proud to serve with them and added that he wanted to “personally thank each and every one.” He said that, even though the board doesn’t always agree on things, it’s his belief that the board “continuously strives to work together to improve Guilford County for all of its citizens.”
The chairman pointed out that, when it comes to economic development in Guilford County, the past year has been “full of ups and downs,” with job creations and job losses. The county’s unemployment rate has fallen to 3.9 percent from 4.2 percent at this time last year, he said.
Branson has always stressed creating new jobs as one of his top priorities and that became clear during the speech.
“We remain cautiously optimistic at the steady improvements in Guilford County’s economy,” he said. “This board, and our economic development partners, continue to prioritize job creation.”
Branson noted that Site Selection Magazineranked the Greensboro-High Point Metro as 8th in the country, for metropolitan areas with populations of between 200,000 and 1 million, due to 24 new projects that were announced in 2018. He also noted that, regionally, the Greensboro-High Point metro ranked eighth in the South Atlantic region across all population categories. New projects created over 2,000 new jobs and brought in capital investment that exceeds $550 million.
During the speech, Branson pointed out that the largest project announced in Guilford County in 2018 – Publix Super Markets’ 1.8 million-square-foot distribution and logistics center – brought an investment of $400 million and 1,000 new jobs to a 350-acre site in eastern Guilford County.
He reeled off other major projects as well.
Looking forward, Branson expressed a lot of hope for the prospects of the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite, the Piedmont Triad International Airport Aviation Megasite and the NC Carolina Core initiative.
Branson proudly noted that Guilford County has more manufacturing employees than any other county in North Carolina and that it’s also ranked 3rd in that category in the Southeastern US. He said that forward-looking moves like the opening of the new Center for Advanced Manufacturing at Guilford Technical Community College will add to those numbers.
Of course, the speech was all about coming challenges as well. Branson spoke about a school facilities study that, in January, revealed findings of a great deal of needs for area schools.
“The study resulted in a recommendation approximately of $1.5 billion in construction and restructuring goals,” he said, “In order to continue towards this investment and commitment to our schools, the county will work with the schools on a prioritized master plan, which will address an affordable funding and implementation schedule, to be completed in the next several months.”
He also spoke about millions of dollars of county projects on the way in 2019 and 2020 including a new emergency services vehicle maintenance center, a new animal shelter, a new Sheriff’s Department’s headquarters and a new mental health facility.
During the speech, Branson gave updates on those projects and said the county can handle the coming costs.
“Guilford County continues to maintain a solid fiscal position in an environment of increasing service demands and operational costs, while managing low growth rates in our property tax base and sales tax, the county’s two primary sources of general fund revenue,” he said. “Because of this, the county retains a AAA bond rating with the three major bond rating agencies. The county’s credit rating is crucially important in ensuring that the county obtains the lowest possible interest rates when selling bonds to finance major capital needs such as schools.”
Branson also spoke about the many other challenges Guilford County faces including the opioid crisis, the large number of foster children now in the county’s care, the rising cost of providing county government services and a host of other concerns – before ending on an optimistic note.
“I am confident that we can make progress in addressing these community challenges if we continue to work together,” Branson said. “Partnership and collaboration is vital to moving Guilford County forward. Our community is blessed with talented, interested and engaged citizens. If we all stay focused on our goals and community issues, we can continue to make positive changes and improvements. I assure you that this Board of Commissioners is committed to working with its citizens and community leaders to tackle the issues facing us and setting the standard for the best place to live, play and work.”