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Gaston County alliance will roll out growth plan on Monday

A new alliance formed by local business leaders will roll out a wide-ranging growth plan for Gaston County on Monday.

In August, the nonprofit Greater Gaston Development Corporation organized seven committees to focus on such issues as transportation, workforce preparedness, industrial recruitment and image/marketing.

Thirty-two recommendations in a 45-page report will be announced Monday at the Gastonia Conference Center.

Leaders say the private nonprofit won’t compete with the county’s economic development commission.

“It’s all about cooperation,” said corporation chairman Bob Clay, a partner in Coldwell Banker Commercial MECA real estate. “We want to work hand in hand and strengthen the EDC.”

The corporation, also called the Alliance for Growth, has targeted two basic issues: how to increase jobs and the tax base in Gaston County.

“We are the lowest-growth county touching Mecklenburg in our region, sad to say,” Clay said. “We want to turn that around.”

To do that, he said the corporation is involving a diverse lineup that includes Gaston County, the cities and towns, chambers of commerce and foundations.

“It’s not a one-year effort,” said Clay. “It’s probably a 10-year program.”

In August, the Greater Gaston Development Corporation brought former Charlotte Chamber president Carroll Gray on board as executive director.

He heads an alliance of 39 business leaders with a board of directors that includes Parkdale Mills CEO Andy Warlick, American & Efird CEO Fred Jackson and CaroMont Health CEO Doug Luckett.

Gray said the group’s seven committees spent an intensive 120 days collecting and analyzing information.

After the recommendations are laid out on Monday, he said no action will be taken. Instead, the corporation will ask for input from the community and meet again on Jan. 22 to prioritize goals for the 2015 action plan.

“We have no authority,” Gray said of the alliance. “We’re trying to create an agenda.”

Since becoming executive director, Gray said, “I’ve gotten to know Gaston County and have been impressed by the leadership and assets we have.”

He hopes the alliance and government can collaborate to implement a growth plan.

A growth plan for Gaston “is a pretty big deal,” Gary said. “It’s a great opportunity for Gaston to come together and I’m seeing nothing but cooperation.”

Gaston County Commission Chairman Tracy Philbeck thinks the county’s economic development commission and other groups are doing a good job, but said, “We can always do better.”

“Anytime we get the community involved and business leaders involved in wanting to make a difference, I see that as completely positive,” Philbeck said. “I’m a strong believer in public/private partnerships. It’s healthy to have that kind of interest and I welcome it.”

Donny Hicks, executive director of the Gaston County Economic Development Commission, looked forward to seeing the alliance’s plan.

“And I look forward to working with them,” he said.

Ted Hall, president of Belmont-based Montcross Area Chamber of Commerce, said 11 of his board members are serving on one or more of the alliance’s committees.

“We’re very enthusiastic,” he said. “Hopefully, this is the start of something great for Gaston County.”

Compared to other counties around Charlotte, Hall said Gaston has lagged behind in economic growth.

“Gaston needs and deserves it,” he said. “It’s time we step up and do our part to be deserving of growth. It’s time to take our place in the region.”

He’s encouraged by the new effort.

“It’s unified and very collaborative,” Hall said. “Like all plans, collaboration will be the key to implementation.”

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