With Mount Airy’s economy a constant concern regardless of the calendar, new jobs highlighted the city government’s work in 2012 and are among its goals for the New Year.
“As we reflect back over the year, even in the face of the tough economic times, we have had a very successful 2012,” City Manager Barbara Jones summed-up in detailing gains last year as well as goals for 2013.
Jones added that her plan is to “enter 2013 with a positive ‘can-do’ attitude, willing to work toward a shared vision of keeping existing business and recruiting new investment and jobs for our community.”
Mount Airy ended 2012 on a positive note with a decision in December by Willow Tex, an Illinois textile company, to establish a plant in the former site of Harvest Time Bread Co., which had shut down earlier in the year. Willow Tex eventually will hire 45 people at an average annual wage of more than $56,000.
More New Industry
City officials are poised for an even bigger announcement by another company this month.
“In January, we’ll announce the biggest project — around 140 jobs coming to the area,” Mayor Deborah Cochran said. “I’m extremely optimistic about 2013.”
The mayor added that the upcoming project will bring an added benefit: “The company that will announce in January, they’re going to be a large water user as well — which is also excellent news for Mount Airy.”
Along with the Willow Tex industrial endeavor, which many view as significant due to the return of a textile company to the area, rather than a departure that has too frequently been the case, Mount Airy enjoyed other business gains during 2012.
This included the opening of Sheetz in June, a $3.5 million investment that brought 45 jobs, and the coming of Chick-fil-A in September, representing an investment of about $1 million and 60 to 70 full- and part-time jobs.
“I think the city took definite strides in 2012 in attracting some companies,” Mayor Cochran said of the major additions that highlighted the year.
Through the expansion of existing business and the coming of new ones, 257 jobs have been generated, according to figures compiled by the city manager. “There has been additional jobs and growth created in small business and retail,” Jones pointed out.
Another sign of progress was seen in renovations and improvements during 2012, according to a breakdown provided by the city manager.
Mount Airy experienced new investment of $2,146 in commercial additions and alterations; new commercial construction added investment of $7,738,600; and new residential construction in the amount of $466,000 occurred, making a total investment of $10,351,167 for the year.
Additional Jobs Sought
While 2012 proved fruitful in many respects, there is still work to be done, Mount Airy officials say.
“Economic development was and continues to be one of the highest priorities,” the city manager continued in balancing accomplishments of 2012 with the goals of 2013.
“We want to create an environment to allow existing and new businesses to succeed. The city’s approach to economic development focuses on promoting job creation, and facilitating private business and expansion by continuing to partner with the Surry County Economic Development Partnership.”
Jones said that in looking ahead, “we want to do a better job with marketing ourselves and telling our story to recruit business and citizens to live and work in Mount Airy.”
This also will “take a village,” rather than just the efforts of officials. “Successful maintenance and recruitment of jobs will require us partnering as a community for results,” Jones believes.
However, this doesn’t mean the city government’s main mission — providing quality services to citizens — will take a back seat.
“As we reflect back on our year, we have been able to accomplish many great things for our community and stay focused on the needs of our citizens. Customer service and fiscal stewardship is high on the list of accomplishments,” Jones said.
“We will continue to focus on providing great customer service with a positive attitude while doing so in the most cost-effective manner possible.”
Jones said “public safety will continue to be at the forefront of our mission. As we see many devastating events across the country, we will continue to work hard keeping our citizens safe.”
Mayor Cochran said that along with working with the city commissioners to create a favorable environment for business, she considers enhancing the quality of life for residents a top priority.
Jones said the new year is bringing “many challenges and many unknowns due to the economy. The mayor and board of commissioners along with the city manager and staff will continue to work as efficiently and positively as we can to listen to the needs of all of our citizens and our existing businesses while also reaching out to recruit new ones. We want to be business-friendly and create jobs for our citizens.”
At a time when many small cities have been forced to raise taxes or gradually cut services or personnel, Mount Airy has managed to hold the line.
This was reflected in another highlight of 2012, a favorable annual audit report and the management of the municipal budget, which the city manager considers one of the year’s greatest accomplishments.
During the 2011-2012 budget year, the property tax rate was reduced by 2 cents, and officials planned to use more than $1 million from a fund balance for major purchases needed.
“However, we purchased and paid for an aerial fire truck, a recycling truck and carts to begin our recycling program, and repaved roads,” Jones pointed out.
“In fact, we added $223,025 to our general fund instead of using monies from our fund balance. We accomplished all goals and managed our budget with expenditures being 12 percent lower than the final budgeted amounts. This was accomplished by strong fiscal leadership from the (city council) and continued initiatives by the manager to sharply curtail spending plans, including delays in hiring vacant positions.”
In looking ahead, “We also will continue to maintain sound fiscal management by evaluating and managing our expenditures,” Jones said.
After more than a year of intensive research, the city of Mount Airy launched a voluntary, single-stream recycling program last Jan. 31, representing another successful highlight for 2012.
This program allows residents to conveniently discard items such as paper products, plastic containers, glass food bottles and jars, aluminum cans and others directly from their homes.
A $100,000 grant from N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources was successfully obtained to assist in offsetting costs for the purchase of 96-gallon blue collection carts.
A transfer station to temporarily store the recyclables was constructed in-house, and the overall program came in under anticipated budgeted amounts.
Magnets and literature were developed and provided before the initial collection to better educate the public about the program and its benefits to the community. In the first six months, curbside recycling exceeded initial projections in both set-out rate and collections. Schools have been added to the route upon request.
Also, a special recycling group recently was appointed to further promote and expand citywide recycling efforts.
Other notable city government activities for 2012 included:
• Water sales to Carroll County, Va. — Toward the end of the year, Mount Airy officials finalized an agreement with Carroll to sell it water. Carroll County will connect to municipal facilities at an in-ground water storage tank located at Surratt Drive.
“We are excited to extend our services into Carroll County, which will be beneficial for both areas,” Jones said.
This agreement continues an ongoing effort to market city water to areas in need in both Surry County and elsewhere.
“We have an abundant resource here in that,” Mayor Cochran said.
• Downtown revitalization and marketing — City officials continued to partner with Downtown Mount Airy Inc. (DMI) and the Downtown Business Association (DBA) on efforts to keep the downtown vibrant and alive.
During 2012, DMI bought the former Shelton Plumbing building to provide additional parking spaces in the central business district. City government also has partnered with DMI for the funding and application for the state Main Street Program.
DMI will hire a coordinator to manage this program, which will include assistance from the N.C. Department of Commerce to create consistent revitalization programs; improve sales downtown; enhance designs of buildings, storefronts and signage; and develop economic growth through marketing.
Mount Airy also is presently working on an application to become a designated retirement community.
• Sewer service to Veterans Memorial Park — Mount Airy partnered with Surry County to fund a much-needed service that will improve the park’s ability to host larger events.
• Recreation gains — A Silver Sneakers program was established last year for patrons 65 and older at Reeves Community Center. A recreation master plan also was completed, which will serve as a road map for recreational considerations for years to come.
In addition, the Reeves Community Center Foundation, a support organization, received a $16,000 donation to install acoustic paneling in an indoor pool area and a scholarship fund assisted 181 individuals during 2012.
• Police department donation— Efforts by a new organization, Friends of the Mount Airy Police Department, led to a Kubota RTV (rough-terrain vehicle) being contributed by an anonymous donor in November. The RTV will be used on greenways and during special events in the city.
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or email@example.com.