One of the many questions three of the four candidates for mayor faced during a recent debate was about their respective plans to bring business, industry and jobs to Rocky Mount.
Robert Lee Alston, Kevin Jones and Sandy Roberson participated in the event, which was held at Benvenue Country Club.
The question comes at a time when the city is going to be the home of a relocated state Division of Motor Vehicles and the area will have a CSX intermodal rail facility, a Corning warehouse and a Triangle Tire plant.
At the same time, much of downtown Rocky Mount along the railroad tracks remains the scene of abandoned or rundown former retail storefronts and Rocky Mount constantly posts the highest jobless rates of any metropolitan area in North Carolina.
Jones, who first was asked the question, said his plan to bring business, industry and jobs is comprehensive and noted, “I feel like we’re in the 21st century.”
Jones said he believes bringing businesses here involves more just than having friends with business interests.
“It’s comprehensive. It’s education. It’s public safety,” Jones said. “It’s just having a trained workforce in place because the reality is that when a business is looking at growing here or starting here, they more than likely have to answer to a board of decision-makers.”
He said he believes the first thing those decision-makers will do when looking at Rocky Mount or places such as Johnston County or Houston is that “(t)hey’re going to look at our schools. They’re going to look at our local paper. And they’re going to make their decision.”
Alston, who next was asked the question, said, “I would just welcome jobs and be creative and welcome whoever may want to bring their jobs to the city of Rocky Mount.”
Alston said he would present such information to the City Council for a vote if need be.
Roberson said he believes the creation of jobs in Rocky Mount requires the city start with an inventory of assets as well as challenges. He emphasized a need to work through the various challenges as a community.
“With that said, I know that we’re going to move forward and we’re going to do that,” Roberson said. “We’re going to accomplish those things that we need to do to make our city the most attractive workplace within the United States.”
He said he believes Rocky Mount ought to work on what the city’s assets are and that what immediately comes to his mind is intermodal transportation.
“We have the opportunity today to become a logistics capital for the United States or at least the Eastern Seaboard,” he said.
He said there are many railroad spurs going through many communities in the city that are suffering from blight that perhaps can be re-engineered as distribution facilities.
“I believe we start the process just simply by making calls,” he said.
The debate was held on Aug. 15 and was sponsored by the local Kiwanis Club and television station WHIG.