Eco-dev plan takes shape

Anthony Gonzalez Staff Reporter

November 15, 2013

Development of Elkin’s Economic Development Plan kicked into high gear on Tuesday night.

“I am happy to see so many people here. We had an exciting business session earlier in the day, but I can tell that this group is going to be vocal,” said Mayor Lestine Hutchens, who welcomed an energetic community during its evening session.

Four clusters were presented by economic development officials — tourism, viticulture, retirement and health services.

The specialists asked the community if the four clusters were suitable, or if they should be considering additional clusters.

In addition to maintaining a cluster that recognizes potential growth in health care, community residents want Elkin to embrace viticulture and tap into the direct and indirect growth that may come from the industry. Other residents said that Elkin must continue to diversify, and not abandon its manufacturing history despite recent losses in the industry.

Residents stressed the need for trail development, additional outdoor recreation, a focus on retail, changing the culture of downtown businesses who may close too early, a concentration on job training and higher education.

A widely popular suggestion was for the town of Elkin to redesign its website with an updated look and incorporate technology that is user-friendly and not static.

The suggestions were all part of Elkin’s five-year economic development outlook, a comprehensive blueprint being developed by the Small Business and Technology Development Center through collaboration with Elkin business leaders and the local community.

The town of Elkin and SBTDC specialists held two interactive forums at the Liberty building. One session was held in the afternoon and relied on the needs from the business sector. The second session held in the evening was designed for community residents.

The sessions were spearheaded by the town of Elkin’s Economic Development department.

“I was very pleased with the turnout of the sessions Tuesday. We received some great feedback and especially in the evening session, some dynamic discussions that were useful, helpful and on track with a lot of what we were thinking residents would want to make sure, was noted for the content of this new Economic Development plan,” said Leslie Schlender, director of Elkin’s economic development department.

According to town officials, there is no one segment of economic development that if addressed will suddenly be the answer to all town needs.

“The town can look at workforce training, supporting asset development such as housing and the development of other quality of life assets, while also looking at our industrial building situation, recruitment and supporting existing businesses with their needs,” said Schlender. “It keeps the big picture of growth in Elkin healthy and well-rounded.”

According to Schlender, at the luncheon with the employers and businesses, discussion was had around having more buildings ready for relocating or expanding businesses, buildings that are more usable for today’s technology and also making sure schools and businesses connect, so that students know the opportunities available to them here in Elkin.

As with the 2008 plan, the development of this plan is facilitated through the SBTDC, a Winston-Salem-based company who developed Elkin’s last economic development plan back in 2008. The attending representatives were Kevin McConnaghy and Bob Weston.

“We’re getting some amazing insight here. This is a very active community,” said Weston.

“There are no suggestions or comments that are not being considered. We listen to your needs,” Kevin McConnaghy relayed to participants.

Tuesday night is not the only chance for residents to provide their input. The town of Elkin said it will release an online survey later this month to capture more feedback and comments. Officials said they also will use other social networking outlets to get out the word.

Reach Anthony Gonzalez at 835-1513 or agonzalez@civitasmedia.com.