Smithfield updating economic development plan

pseligson@newsobserver.comMarch 17, 2014 

Smithfield is updating its economic-development plan, which town leaders hope will be a guide for keeping existing businesses and attracting new ones.

The Town Council ordered the update at its March meeting. The aim is to outline Smithfield’s strengths and weaknesses, ask people where they want the town to go and then decide how to get there.

Smithfield created its economic-development plan in 2004, and this will be the first update. The firm Sanford Holshouser Economic Development Consulting created the first plan, and Smithfield hired the company for the update.

The firm will charge about $10,000. Smithfield will pay $2,000; other organizations, such as the Downtown Smithfield Development Corp., will chip in the rest.

Rocky Lane is the managing partner leading the update; he hopes to have it done by May.

“It starts out with an end game in mind: ‘OK, this is where we want to go,’” Lane said. “And the economic strategic plan sets down to get from where you are to where you want to go.

“That allows towns and municipalities to most effectively and efficiently utilize their very precious resources, which are tax dollars, to make sure that they can make the biggest impact for their citizens.”

The updated plan will look at a number of Smithfield’s features. It will examine Smithfield’s demographic data, including education levels, unemployment rate, largest employers and population growth. It will also look at current industries, how they could grow and how to make sure the town has space available for new industries and businesses.

The plan will summarize this information for marketing materials. For instance, Lane might make a quick-facts sheet to handout to visiting employers.

Lane will also interview town leaders, ranging from councilmen to business owners to longtime residents. He’ll use their opinions and ideas to recommend a direction for the town.

Mayor John Lampe said he hopes the plan will bring good quality people and industries to Smithfield. But he also thinks this could be the last time Smithfield creates an economic-development plan.

“In 10 years, the Internet will completely replace this model of having all the census data, maps and water lines and sewer all ready in some package to hand out to some strangers,” he said. “I think they’ll get it off the Internet.”

The update coincides with the Downtown Smithfield Development Corp.’s effort to create a vision statement for downtown. On Monday, the DSDC held a forum for people to talk about the future of downtown.

Sarah Edwards, the nonprofit’s interim director, said the updated economic-development plan will be an important tool, giving her the facts and figures she needs to attract new businesses.

For instance, if the new plan finds that Smithfield has enough restaurants per person, she would know to spend her time trying to attract a different type of business. “It’s another tool in the toolbox to be able to draw businesses to Smithfield,” she said.

Seligson: 919-836-5768

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