People were talking all weekend about the devastating news that VF had decided to move its corporate headquarters from Greensboro to Denver. Losing Greensboro’s only Fortune 500 corporate headquarters is a huge kick in the gut for the city.
But the extent of the problem was revealed on Monday, when eight of nine members of the City Council met for an hour to discuss boards and commissions.
There is nothing more mundane than boards and commissions. It used to be relegated to the end of the meeting when councilmembers would make appointments and nobody paid much attention. With the current City Council, it has become a major priority.
The truth is that most boards and commissions are advisory and have no real power, but they have moved front and center for the current City Council.
The current Greensboro City Council has never met for the sole purpose of discussing economic development, much less business retention for an hour. In fact, in my estimation, if you took all the discussions of economic development during the past eight months and put them together, you’d be hard pressed to come up with an hour total.
What this City Council is really concerned about is making certain that there is the proper level of diversity on every single board and commission it appoints. So far it’s concerned about diversity of race, sex and geography. But adding economic diversity and sexual preference has been mentioned and may be in the works.
Is it any wonder that VF decided to move to a place that is not only more business friendly, but more business aware? It appears that as far as the Greensboro City Council is concerned, businesses exist to pay taxes for the City Council to spend on social programs.
The City Council can’t do anything about VF leaving. That decision has been made. But wouldn’t it be worthwhile to spend some time figuring out why VF chose to leave and how to prevent other smaller companies from making the same decision in the future?
Councilmember Justin Outling several times during the lengthy discussions of panhandling and the homeless pointed out that this City Council listed jobs and economic development as one of its priorities, but instead of discussing jobs and economic development the City Council was spending all of its time on the panhandling and homeless issue.
The idea of the City Council having one meeting a month where all it does is listen to speakers from the floor talk about whatever is on their minds is not inherently a bad one. But what has happened is that the speakers from the floor are directing the priorities of the City Council. The City Council decides to try and solve whatever issue is brought to them by people who have nothing better to do than attend a bunch of council meetings and speak for five minutes, instead of sticking to the priorities they have laid out for themselves.
The city staff is stuck doing what the City Council directs them to do.
And there is a lot of work to do if Greensboro doesn’t want to become not North Carolina’s fourth largest city, but maybe it’s fifth or sixth.
Mecklenburg and Wake counties both had job growth of over 14 percent and they long ago moved out of our league, but even in our league we are doing poorly. Guilford County had 3.9 percent job growth while Durham had 8 percent and Forsyth 4.8 percent.
What is the Greensboro City Council doing to attract new businesses and jobs? If they are doing anything, the City Council isn’t talking about it at meetings. No one is discussing what could be done to make Greensboro more attractive to businesses looking for a new location.
The City Council does spend a lot of time talking about what will make Greensboro better for homeless people and panhandlers, but what would actually be better for homeless people and panhandlers was if there was somewhere in town where they could get a job.
One question the City Council might want to consider is why it takes so long to get things done.
The Tanger Center for the Performing Arts was first discussed by the City Council in 2011. It is now under construction. But this is 2018 and it is slated to open in 2020. Does it take other cities nine years to build a performing arts center?
Greensboro announced in 2016 that it was building two new downtown parking decks. It’s 2018 and the way was just cleared this week to start construction on one; the land has not yet been purchased for the other. Cities build parking decks all the time. Why in Greensboro does it take so long to get underway?
Fortunately, I have a solution. The City Council currently meets twice a month. The first Tuesday of the month it holds a town hall-type meeting where it hears from speakers, but by agreement doesn’t do any business.
On the third Tuesday of the month it holds its business meeting. It is the only meeting of the month where the City Council does the business of running the city.
What the City Council should do is add one meeting a month to focus on economic development, business retention and job growth. It could start by figuring out exactly why VF left. Then it could get all the economic development groups in the city to come in and tell the City Council what they are doing to promote economic development in Greensboro. It appears that could be an extremely interesting meeting.
The City Council could invite developers from here and around the state to talk about what would make Greensboro more business friendly. The City Council could invite folks from Charlotte and Raleigh to talk to them about what they did to spur growth in those cities. Greenville, South Carolina, has shown remarkable growth; maybe it would be good for the City Council to hear how they did it.
Having one meeting a month on economic development would at least force the City Council to spend some time thinking about economic development. When they were campaigning for office, the councilmembers talked about the need for economic growth and jobs. When they held their priority setting session in January, it was set as a priority. But since then the City Council has become sidetracked on social issues.
If councilmembers are not willing to spend one meeting a month talking about economic development, perhaps they should admit that it isn’t a priority.
It is telling that at the City Council meetings this week not one councilmember mentioned the fact that VF was leaving. Nor did anyone mention that FedEx was doubling its workforce.
In fact, maybe somebody on the City Council should inquire why FedEx Ground is, and the new Amazon facility will be, in Guilford County, but in Kernersville – not Greensboro. All of Greensboro is in Guilford County and only a small slice of Kernersville. There must be a good reason why those international companies chose to locate near the airport but in Kernersville.
Maybe we’re not doing anything wrong in Greensboro, but we aren’t doing enough right.
It appears the City Council’s response to VF leaving is to stick its head in the sand and pretend it didn’t happen, that’s not much of solution.