LAURINBURG — Laurinburg is a city with a lot of assets — higher education, available land and transportation, according to economic developers who have studied the city.
But those advantages are often overshadowed by poverty, lack of investment, negative attitudes and divisive leadership.
Those were some of the findings of a Laurinburg Economic Development Strategic Plan presented to the Laurinburg City Council Tuesday night.
The 34-page report was put together by the Elkin firm Creative Economic Development Consulting using information from interviews and a community survey along with staff and leadership input. In total, about 140 people provided input for the strategic plan. It was paid for by a grant from ElectriCities.
The report said that public sentiment on the survey ranged from community champions to “overwhelming negative perception of the city.” One comment on the survey read: “Who would want to come here after reading the constant negativity.”
In the survey, residents ranked education, new business recruitment and existing business support as the top three economic development strategies, according to Crystal Morphis, founder and CEO of Creative Economic Development Consulting.
To achieve those goals, the city over the next three years needs to develop its leadership, re-brand the city’s image and leverage its higher education assets, Morphis told council.
She said leadership is “the defining factor” in economic success. In the survey, residents listed the city council and a lack of unity and vision in local government among the threats to economic growth.
“From community engagement for this study, we found that Laurinburg’s leadership is fractured,” the report said. “No level of effort in economic development will be successful without consensus, collaboration and cooperation of leadership.”
The report said a critical component to leadership development is engaging future leaders, “especially as more boomers and millennials enter the workforce.
It was recommended that the city recruit at least one person under 30 to serve on every city committee advisory board and commission and encourage other civic groups to do the same.
Another recommendation calls for the city to re-brand itself. The report said the city could do that through a branding firm that would help “reinforce the history and assets of the city while at the same time creating a sense of transformation.”
The city should also designate a staff person as a public relations officers to market Laurinburg; and overhaul the city’s website for economic development.
“One of the major hurdles to growth is the negative perceptions of what it is like to live, work and play in Laurinburg,” the report said. “Through re-branding and internal marketing , we believe that Laurinburg can shift the story to a positive one about transformation.”
Laurinburg should also promote its strengths like St. Andrews and Richmond Community College, the future of Interstate 74, proximity to Ft. Bragg and being named a three-time All America City.
“Laurinburg needs to tell the positive story of revitalization and turn citizens into ambassadors and community champions The city has assets like St. Andrews and UNC Pembroke, highway network and available land and buildings,” the report said. “Companies invest in communities that invest in and believe in themselves. The rhetoric in Laurinburg needs a positive change in order to attract outsiders.”
In other business, council voted to:
— Set a public hearing for Dec. 12 to amend the Unified Development Ordinance. Council will consider proposed changes to the ordinance’s legislative/quasi-judicial procedures, supplemental regulations development review process and definitions;
— Authorize the mayor to execute an agreement for $1.5 million industrial fund utility grant for infrastructure improvements at the Scotland Industrial Park. Council also adopted a resolution to authorize signatures for the grant. The city personnel designated to sign the requisitions for the funds on behalf of the city are City Manager Charles Nichols; Finance Director Carrie Neal; General Services Director Harold Haywood; and Deputy Finance Director Mary McNeill.
In a related matter, council also amended its budget appropriations ordinance to accept the grant.
Reach Scott Witten at 910-506-3023