We’ve been residents of Rocky Mount for 18 years. We’ve seen it awarded All- American City status and we’ve seen the industrial base leave town. We’re now in serious financial straits. Is the catalyst to recovery an event center? I think we’ve got the cart before the horse.
In the recent presentation by AECOM, mention was made of the new event centers in Allentown and Evansville. By sheer coincidence, my family is from Allentown, and my wife grew up in Evansville. We know these communities well. There should be no comparison made between these areas and Rocky Mount. These event centers are being built in locations that have a much higher chance to succeed because of the economics of the areas.
I don’t know if the event center in Allentown, Pa., (the PPL Center) will be a success, but there are 821,000 people in the Lehigh Valley. It is the fastest growing area of Pennsylvania.
The event center was supposed to cost $177 million dollars. Now that it’s close to opening (in September) the total cost looks like $234 million.
The financing for the center is an extremely complex funding structure. After 30 years, the debt service will total close to a half a billion dollars. The event center is designed to be the centerpiece in the city’s downtown revitalization. It includes offices and a hotel complex.
The center will be home to a minor league hockey team. The city is excited about the center, but is up against a huge financial burden. Will it work to revitalize Allentown?
They are betting it will – and they have a lot more going for them economically than we do, despite paying more than twice the property taxes we pay here.
The Evansville Ford Center has had its detractors aplenty. Even though Evansville has a strong economic base that includes Bristol-Myers, Toyota, Alcoa and riverboat gaming, they expect their first full year losses to be more than $300,000. Their greatest financial hopes are that the center will “break even.” About half of the financing is coming from the city’s lucrative gaming revenues. In their general metropolitan area, they have more than 311,000 people.
We don’t compare to these areas. The overriding factor that makes them different is they are far healthier economically than we are. The event centers are more like icing on the cake for these two areas. For us it’s a wild-ride risk.
And how to we get back to economic health? By focusing all our economic development efforts on attracting business back to Rocky Mount. I’m not talking about more restaurants or goods and services. We need to make things, again! The engine that will bring us back to prosperity is driven by industry, manufacturing and business. Remember how healthy we were when we were flush with industry – before we lost most of our industrial base? One speaker at the citizens meeting said there was no chance we’d ever see industry return to Rocky Mount. Well, we’d better make certain we find industries to come to Rocky Mount! All of our economic development efforts need to work toward this goal.
It’s easy to tax citizens and their property and to issue bonds to pay for event centers. But the possibilities are frought with huge risks and potentially minimal payback for the citizens of Rocky Mount who have to pay for this gamble. The difficult work that we must do is to find the industries that are willing to invest in Rocky Mount.
With industry comes jobs. Jobs create income and subsequent spending on goods and services, and so on in the great economic cycle of success. Real income growth starts from the unlimited generating power of business and industry creating and sustaining jobs. Has our economic development council given up? Is the event center our last resort?
The amazing byproducts of economic health are stabler families, fewer drug problems, less violence, better schools, stronger churches, self-respect and jobs for everyone willing to work. Once all this is achieved for Rocky Mount, then let’s talk about an event center – not before.