Panel explores issues impacting local economy

Published 12:10 am Thursday, April 6, 2023

Lewisville-Clemmons Chamber of Commerce Economic Forum covers wide range of topics

From growth/development to roads/traffic to employment/jobs to housing/real estate and much more, last Thursday morning’s Lewisville-Clemmons Chamber of Commerce Economic Forum panel discussion wasn’t short on topics.
The local economy, in general and with lots of specifics, was front and center for the breakfast gathering and nearly two-hour discussion at the Historic Broyhill Office Suites, led by Director Kristin Johnson, who served as the moderator.
The heavyweight lineup of speakers included Mayor Mike Rogers of Clemmons, Mayor Mike Horn of Lewisville, Davie County Economic Development Commission President Terry Bralley, NCDOT Division 9 Engineer Pat Ivey and Baldwin Properties President Lou Baldwin.
There was something for everybody, including this take that covered several topics from Bralley, who has been promoting Davie County in several roles for more than 40 years.
“If you want to have a lot of fun today, have a rezoning hearing,” he said. “You know what the No. 1 issue is? It’s traffic. People move here from somewhere else, and they want it to be in the rural country side, and now you’re changing all this.
“We happen to be in a very popular part of the state of North Carolina, which has seen some of the most growth out there with an additional 2.5 million since 2000. That’s a large amount of people. And you’re living close to an interchange here for convenience, and you want that cornfield to stay. That’s not going to happen. It’s called capitalism.”
The two mayors talked about the tremendous growth inside and around their borders with Horn, the longtime mayor of Lewisville stating, “Lewisville and Clemmons are truly the drivers in Forsyth County on the western side with Kernersville on the other side.”
Of course, with all that growth comes traffic, and lots of it, particularly in Clemmons where the overloaded Lewisville-Clemmons Road is in the spotlight with the massive $40 million road improvement project, including the I-40 interchange, in the process of getting ready to move forward to improve safety and traffic flow.
A question from the crowd asked if it was true in a recent edition of the Courier about McDonald’s having to move to make room for a looping connector on Lewisville-Clemmons Road that is proposed to go there through the Stadium Drive intersection.
Ivey confirmed that was indeed the case, saying the alternative selected by NCDOT will provide the purchase of the McDonald’s site, and was then quizzed if the fast-food restaurant will be relocating in Clemmons.
“I’m sure they will,” Ivey said. “They will be compensated for that. Our experience with McDonald’s and other businesses like that is that they like the corridor that they’re on. Clearly, McDonald’s has indicated they want to stay in this area. I’m sure they will find an alternative location in this same area.”
While Lewisville-Clemmons Road has captured most of the headlines, Ivey received a question for an update on an also hectic Clemmons Road/U.S. 158.
“That is a separate transportation project,” Ivey said. “We’re working with both Clemmons and Bermuda Run on what that corridor needs to look like, and I think we have settled on a three-lane section basically between Lewisville-Clemmons Road going across the river all the way through Bermuda Run to Baltimore Road. They’re two individual projects, and both of those will be submitted for prioritization, and that process will begin this summer.”
Both mayors were asked how they could help small businesses, including providing grants.
“We do not offer grants,” Rogers said. “What we do offer is a robust community, good median incomes, good jobs and a low tax rate. That’s our incentive. And with the projected number (of population growing 7,000 in our area in five years), that’s a lot of customers for a new business.”
Horn said, “We’re not focusing on business development or growth in retail — part of our picture is 10, 15, maybe 20 percent. We’re focusing on quality of life issues — like safe neighborhoods, pedestrian connections, low taxes, community engagement programs at the square, facilities available free or at low cost to residents. Everything we focus on now is to build community.”
Housing shortages and the soaring costs of real estate, including the steadily climbing interest rates, and increasing rents also play a major role in impacting the local economy.
Baldwin, who has been the president and owner of Baldwin Properties since 1989, said that supply “is everything” in this equation.
“We’ve had a market that is out of equilibrium for a long time,” he said. “You look back at 2014, 2015 and 2016, and people were saying the same thing they are saying today, which is there is not enough housing. When demand outpaces supply, prices are going to go up, and the last three years, the prices have just been unbelievable, and it hasn’t been healthy. We are starting to show some signs of settling down, and what we’re seeing is a recalibration in the next 12 to 18 months on housing leveling out.”
Here are some other fast facts, quotes and observations offered by the panelists:
• Bralley, on what drives the economy here and everywhere and why the Triad is in a great spot: “In today’s world, it’s analytics, the harvesting of data and speed to market. It’s a changing world. Out of the seven fastest metropolitan area in U.S., we have two of them in Charlotte and Raleigh. And Asheville is the fastest-growing city. We’ve got a lot of opportunities, and I believe this economy here is going to be stable.”
• On people moving into the Greater Winston-Salem area over the last three months, Baldwin said that Raleigh headed the Top 10 list, followed by New York City and other large cities across the United States.
• When Bralley asked if anyone in attendance knew what was the No. 1 country was in terms of people moving into North Carolina, he figured most everybody would say Mexico and one person guessed Canada. However, he stated it was “India, the largest English-speaking democracy in the world.”
• On too much state control over local governments, Rogers said: “Some bills being presented in Raleigh want to take away our authority for zoning. And that’s something that should be local and shouldn’t be dictated by the state. Our citizens are telling us by electing us what they want in their community.”
• On the current mindset on the community, Bralley said: “I could bring a $100 million project to the table and hire a thousand people, but people don’t seem to care about it. They’re more interested in, you know, ‘Terry you’ve done a great job, but why can’t you get a Chick-fil-A here?’ ”
• With interest rates at 6.5 percent for a 30-year fixed mortgage and 5.5 percent for a 15-year fixed mortgage, Bralley said, “My first house was 12.5 percent. You get used to cheap money. It’s like sugar. It doesn’t last.” He added that his son is paying $1,700 a month to rent a 1,500 square-foot house in Davie County. “A dollar a square foot is the going rate, if not a dollar and quarter,” Bralley said. “And there’s no vacancy. This in a nationwide issue, not a local issue. It just feels like it is. It’s like labor. Labor’s the same wherever you go. The cost of labor, the cost of materials is $175 to $200 a square foot to build it.”
• On workforce housing, Baldwin said: “As Mayor Horn said, it’s really the heart of this and if we are going to be able to attract businesses, we are going to have to have a place for them to live, and it has to be affordable.”
• On manufacturing, Bralley said: “If you want to manufacture, you do it here in Piedmont North Carolina. It’s what we do. We make things. We have a history of that.”
• Continuing on the job front, Horn said: “Look at white-collar jobs. So many of those have been transitioned to blended jobs where you can work at home or you can work at your jobs if you want to, but as Terry (Bralley) mentioned, you have a bunch of blue-collar jobs coming to the Triad. You can’t do a blue-collar job at home in your underwear.”
• Moderator Kristin Johnson: “As the mom of two rising employees, we have to teach our kids to get off some of this social media and start getting their hands dirty again.”
In closing, the five panelists were asked about the greatest concern facing them and what they’re most encouraged about in their particular town, county or specific area. Below are condensed responses to those queries.
• From Mike Rogers in Clemmons: Biggest concern — It’s always traffic, how do we manage it, get connectivity and build grid networks, which is not a simple solution and costs a lot of money; Encouragement — Wonderful staff doing a great job answering the questions from the public and providing services to our citizens.
• From Mike Horn in Lewisville: Biggest concern — State governments continuing to cripple our ability to manage our communities, supply chain shortages, and a different vision of development between the town and county; Encouragement — Great place to live, managing the majority of growth, more stability in local businesses.
• From Terry Bralley of Davie County: Biggest concern — Developing leadership to take the place of these people who are willing to serve today; Encouragement — What we’ve got here together and being in great shape and can drive our own future if we have the leadership in place.
• From Pat Ivey of NCDOT: Biggest concern — Other than finding sustainable revenue sources, experiencing some of the same issues as the others of finding good, qualified, skilled employees; Encouragement — The partnerships DOT has with the municipalities, other government agencies and private sectors to work together to solve transportation challenges, including local governments stepping up to the plate financially to partner with DOT, along with the private sector, to leverage these resources.
• From Lou Baldwin of Baldwin Properties: Biggest concern — Those left behind in all of this. You can talk about inflation affecting businesses, but folks who can’t afford a meal or a place to live are even more affected by that. Encouragement — Even when it comes down to disagreements on how things get done, we live in a very collaborative, cooperative area. People work together to solve problems.