Chamber summit examines local economy

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City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney speaks Wednesday during the Economic Summit at Rose Hill Conference Center.


Staff Writer

Thursday, December 13, 2018

NASHVILLE — A roomful of business and community leaders and local officials from across the Twin Counties came out for the 2018 Rocky Mount Area Chamber of Commerce's Economic Summit on Wednesday at the Rose Hill Conference Center.

The summit consisted of Rocky Mount City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney giving an overview of some local economic updates in Rocky Mount. Small-Toney's theme was about creating an inclusive economy in Rocky Mount and throughout the Twin Counties through five characteristics — participating, equity, growth, sustainability and stability.

Small-Toney said the city of Rocky Mount will soon implement a one-stop shop in an area on the first floor of City Hall that the utility department once occupied that will be open in March.

The area will be a central location for developers and businesses to process applications for plan reviews, permits, inspections and any other processes needed for property development.

"Instead of venturing all over City Hall and going across the street at the new utility building office, folks will be able to come in and get these things done," Small-Toney said. "Our goal is to dramatically improve our planning, permitting and inspecting operations.”

Small-Toney touched on other positive economic news happening in the local economy. In October, the Twin Counties gained 1,370 jobs with 900 jobs added over the month in manufacturing, according to the state Department of Commerce. 

Small-Toney said when looking at property evaluation this year, overall taxable values increased 2 percent with a growth of 3 percent in the central city primarily because of new construction, renovations and expansion. She added that previously, growth measured less than 1 percent annually.

In addition, Small-Toney said figures from the state Department of Revenue showed that business activity in the Twin Counties witnessed a 3.3 percent year-to-year growth in sales for the 2017-18 fiscal year. Also, from July to September of this year, growth exceeded more than 8 percent compared to the same period last year.

In terms of housing, Small-Toney said real estate agents know the biggest challenge right now is the supply of available homes. But she added sales activity is up and so is pricing as there is a significant growth of new construction happening across several neighborhoods and parks in Rocky Mount. 

Other highlights from Small-Toney’s speech included:

■ More than two dozen businesses have joined the Chamber this year.

■ Rocky Mount Mills has invested more than $45 million in commercial and residential investment since starting the re-development project and has 15 businesses operating on campus.

■ The new 80,000-square-foot Homewood Suites by Hilton hotel opened earlier this year and a new Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott under New Bridge Management in Roanoke Rapids is slated to open sometime next year. The hotels will represent more than $10 million in new investment in Rocky Mount.

■ Eight new businesses have opened in downtown Rocky Mount since the beginning of the year and more than $4 million in private investment has been made in downtown in the past four years.

■ The local economy’s total gross product declined by 1.5 percent in 2017.

Also, as the result of sport tourism, the Rocky Mount Sports Complex has resulted in more than 72,000 tournament visitors annually with an economic impact of nearly $10 million annually. With the opening of the Rocky Mount Event Center, Small-Toney said the facility is expected to produce an economic impact of $264 million in new spending over a 10-year-old period. The expectation is to have a net profit of $450,000 by year 10 and 46,000 additional hotel room nights in Rocky Mount by year five.

“We expect this facility will be a magnet for growth across the city and across the area by creating jobs and encouraging additional private investment,” Small-Toney said. “We also believe its impact on improving the quality of life will yield dividends as other sectors are recruited such as manufacturing, health care, science and technology.”

The summit had a panel discussion that featured Mike Walden, professor and extension economist at N.C. State University and State Treasurer Dale Folwell. Walden said there is optimism for the Twin Counties economy and pointed out how the area could benefit from agribusiness, which he believes is a growth sector of the future, attracting retirees looking to come to the warmer southern climate and young people looking for a cost-effective way to stay close to the Triangle and landing smaller manufacturing firms coming to North Carolina.

Folwell, who manages the 26th largest pension fund in the world, said the State Health Plan will launch a new medical reimbursement strategy for North Carolina providers that care for plan members starting on Jan. 1. The plan will move away from a commercial-based payment model to a reference-based government pricing model based on a percentage of Medicare rates to reimburse health care providers for their services.