by Jackson Sveen

CORNELIUS – Don Harrow, the new economic developer in Cornelius, said he’s found that during his first six weeks on the job citizens are less worried about the town’s economy than they are the sign ordinance.

Harrow was hired in December with a specific framework for tasks and goals, with the ultimate goal being for the town to generate economic growth.

He told the board Jan. 22 that he has been visiting businesses in Cornelius. Commissioner John Bradford and Lake Norman Chamber President Bill Russell joined him during the visits.

Bradford reaffirmed Harrow’s message about signs in Cornelius.

“The sentiment we heard is signage. That has come up many, many times,” Bradford said. “I was really surprised that year-to-year sales, the trending we are seeing so far is everyone seems to be up. Very few people say they are down.”

The businesses that say they are down tend, Bradford said, to be dry cleaners, nail salons and alterations.

Harrow said that he is looking for ways to help business benefit through relationships with groups like the Charlotte Regional Partnership, The Lake Norman Economic Development Council, the Lake Norman Chamber and Visit Lake Norman.

Part of Harrow’s responsibilities is to develop and maintain a list of all the businesses in Cornelius. That’s been difficult so far, he said, because that information is spread out through the secretary of state, Mecklenburg County and the town itself.

Following his presentation, Harrow fielded questions from the board.

Here are the highlights of that discussion:

Commissioner Jeff Hare: “Have you had any kind of aha moments; Things that you’ve learned in the process so far that really struck you as interesting?”

Harrow: “It’s been interesting to go out and engage a lot of people. To get a lot of different perspectives and viewpoints, fundamentally, on the question whether Cornelius is business friendly or unfriendly.

I think it depends on your history or experience with the town, your perspective.

I am hearing some things that I think the board will want to take a look at down the road.”

Commissioner Chuck Travis: “Have you found any common themes in these conversations that you’ve been having, particularly with the town being friendly or unfriendly?”

Harrow: “There have been a few. I feel more confident, pending a little bit more feedback from a larger sample, but I do think that the sign ordinance has come up countless times.”

Travis: In a positive or negative way?”

Harrow: “In a negative way. It has to do with the content of the ordinance; the degree of flexibility or lack thereof. It’s sort of an administration and enforcement of the ordinance, customer service type element. I’ve gotten a fair amount of feedback about the land use code and sort of the zoning process.

I intend to get with (the planning board) and have conversations to get a perspective of the zoning process.

One aspect raised by several people in the community, is that it seems like every rezoning turns out to be a conditional use that are not simple processes.

The question is raised, that surely there are situations with a simple rezoning and not getting into every (situation) being a conditional rezoning.”

Mayor Lynette Rinker: “When you had your conversations, in particular with Charlotte regional partners and the regional groups, what were the nature of those conversations and what type of feedback did you get?”

Harrow: “The nature of the conversations is all very positive. They started really with the Charlotte Regional Partnership and I think it goes from there, down to the local level.

They are a broad regional organizations and certainly glad to know that Cornelius is making this investment, to the point that, there’s another community that is getting more organized and more active. It creates opportunity for job creation and capital investment. If that happens in the region, it’s good for everybody.

I’ve talked about my desire to bring in developers from Charlotte and have a roundtable to ask them if they’ve done work up here and if so, what the experience has been. What are the impediments and do they want to do future development up here.”