Rocky Mount, N.C.-The Rocky Mount City Council started the first day of their annual retreat with a three-hour presentation from Dr. Jim Johnson, professor and director of the Urban Investment Strategies Center at the Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at UNC Chapel Hill. Johnson’s topic was “A roadmap for inclusive and equitable development in Rocky Mount.”
According to Johnson, this roadmap cannot be developed without first looking at the demographic reality of Rocky Mount and the Twin Counties region. Research shows that between 2010 and 2017, the area was losing population. Rocky Mount lost 29 percent of its white population, gained in the African-American population by 11.8 percent and experienced growth in the Hispanic population. Similar trends are noted in Nash and Edgecombe counties as the areas experience a “Browning of America.”
“You’re losing everybody but the 65-plus population,” noted Johnson. “In Rocky Mount, your 4564 population is growing, but it is a booming population, and the next wave is 65+.”
Johnson also indicated the significant percentage of the working poor population in the region, reasons why strategies should be devised for both the working poor and for those doing well.
“How do you embrace and recruit new talent and at the same time be inclusive of the existing population that is there?’ asked Johnson.
One way is to develop key drivers for inclusive and equitable development, as well as shared prosperity. Johnson defines shared prosperity as “fostering income growth among the bottom 40 percent of a country’s population. Without sustained economic growth, poor people are unlikely to increase their living standards. But growth is not enough by itself. Improvement in the Shared Prosperity Indicator requires growth to be inclusive of the less well off.”
These key drivers include having the city lead as an engine of opportunity or serving as a model employer. Examples might be enacting policies and practices that promote equity, inclusion and shared prosperity; developing inclusive hiring practices; contracting with historically underutilized businesses and more.
Drivers for inclusive community economic development would be making sure the city leverages its procurement dollars in an equitable and inclusive way. The city could also offer education, training and technical assistance robust enough to serve a pipeline of potential vendors.
A final key driver is the establishment of a Development Venture Fund, or a pool of dollars to support the growth and expansion of home grown historically underutilized businesses.
Johnson encouraged the council to create an inclusive development logic model indicating problems like economic insecurity, homelessness, gentrification and others, as well as activities to help solve these issues. Putting together a technical assistance and lending program; establishing a competition on innovative ways to create affordable housing; credit building activities; and the establishment of career academies are prime examples.
“What do you want the city to look like in 2025?” asked Johnson. “You write the script now and work backwards to achieve it.”
Dr. Landis Faulcon, director of Community and Business Development, and Julie Brennan of Fountainworks, a management and consulting company, facilitated one of those scripts. The two led the council in a discussion on the development of a housing policy. The policy would be “a broad statement about the work that local government will do,” said Faulcon.
The goal of the proposed housing policy will be to facilitate or promote safe, affordable and sustainable housing for its residents.
After research, comments from various groups and previous studies, Faulcon and her staff drafted five key focus areas for a housing policy. Areas include increasing the supply of safe and decent rental housing, as well as creating affordable home ownership opportunities. Improving the quality of rental properties through housing repair and rehabilitation programs was a third area. Faulcon also noted the creation of city and private investment opportunities to support housing development, operations and services. Finally, creating a plan for acquiring properties that need to be renovated, and preserving historic properties is a key focus area.
After discussing focus areas with council, along with objectives and target populations, staff will later provide council with a housing policy draft for consideration.
“You now have the bones for a good housing policy,” said Brennan. “So, you can continue moving forward with that.”
Tameka Kenan-Norman Chief Communications and Marketing Officer