Published: Jul 01, 2008 01:27 PM
Modified: Jul 01, 2008 01:27 PM
Bradly Broadwell -- that's how he spells it: no "e" -- is the John Edwards of economic development directors.
The county's new business grower/recruiter/booster says folks in Orange County are going to have to get real if the county is going to attract the commercial activity it needs.
And it needs it, many say.
Orange County may have the lowest unemployment in the state, but our tax base is out of whack: 86 percent residential.
When you don't have business and industry, you tax homeowners. The county commissioners, after cutting the manager's recommended budget, still raised property taxes 5 percent. Chapel Hill, after two years with no increase, just raised its tax rate 11 percent -- nearly three times inflation.
I asked Broadwell about Buckhorn Village. Three of the county's top builders, including uber-developer Roger Perry, have proposed 1 million square feet of shopping off Interstate 85 in Efland.
Most counties would hold a parade. But folks here are asking questions. Do we really want more retail jobs? Does regional shopping even make sense when the polar bears are dying?
Broadwell comes from Dorchester County, Md., where he served as the director of economic development. He's also worked internationally.
He talks fast -- says it's his enthusiasm -- and that he's tired of people kicking retail around.
"Everybody says 'Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart," he says. "I'm struck by the negativity, instead of people saying, 'We do need more retail. How can we do this in the best manner?'"
Broadwell will be looking at Carolina North, high-tech spin-offs and other industry. But the question of the hour is Buckhorn Village, and Broadwell says the critics are missing a key point. In Orange County, the economy is really two economies. And retail -- for many shoppers and workers -- ain't all bad.
"People love to work at Bass Pro Shops. People love Home Depot. Those jobs pay health benefits," he says, shuffling his business cards like he's about to cut the deck. "If you're trying to convince Chapel Hill they're good jobs, you may never."
And here's the sound bite.
"I don't see populist economics being discussed. I see Ph.D. economics being discussed."
The thing is, Broadwell says, you can't have a workforce of all Ph.D. jobs. The right retail could be a boon to Orange County, especially in the central and northern part of the county.
Hillsborough has a new Durham Tech campus. Where are those students going to work before they graduate into better-paying jobs, he asks. What about people who are already working but need a second job to pay the bills?
Who's to say Buckhorn Village won't help create a Triangle within the Triangle, as retail jobs in Efland pay college tuition in Hillsborough that leads to high-tech jobs in Chapel Hill?
"How can I prove all this? I don't know, but I've been doing it 25 years," Broadwell says.
"I think my enthusiasm is an asset. I still think we can get it done in a way we all want it done."