Huntersville has been on the right track in its economic development efforts, a national consulting group says, and the group has made recommendations that could help officials guide future growth for at least the next 10 to 15 years.
The town board held a pre-meeting work session before its Sept. 15 meeting to hear the presentation from RKG Associates, a Virginia-based company that’s provided similar recommendations for towns such as Durham, Roswell, Ga.; Blacksburg, Va.; Annapolis, Md., and others.
The town board will likely vote on whether to accept the findings in the next month or so, said Zac Gordon, a principal planner for the town. The findings could also help the Lake Norman Regional Economic Development Corp. as it works to attract business, Gordon said.
Last year, the town sought applicants to address a scope of work that included “job creation, private investment and tax base expansion, while maintaining a high quality of life, including preservation and enhancement of the Town’s natural, scenic, cultural and historic assets.”
Out of seven responses to the town’s request for qualifications, the contract was awarded in November 2013 to RKG Associates for $40,000, part of the planning department’s 2013-14 fiscal year budget.
Russell Archambault, vice president and principal of RKG, made the recent presentation to the board.
Through on-site study and interviews, RKG analyzed the town’s demographics, economics and real estate market to understand past development trends and help target the most beneficial types of industries in the future.
Achambault said the town’s economic development efforts “are effective and commendable,” and its economic base is healthy, diverse and growing.
While Huntersville’s quality of life should continue to attract residents and employers, growth is “consuming its land rapidly” and reserving land for nonresidential development “will be key to ensuring economic sustainability,” according to the presentation.
Other presentation highlights included:
• The town “is growing in demographics many would desire,” Archambault said, from young, family-forming households to households in their prime earning years.
• Huntersville’s economic base is maturing, as is its ability to be an employment center. However, the number of commuters coming into town (nearly 13,000) only makes up for half the number of commuters who leave to work elsewhere (nearly 26,000.)
• The town’s calling card: Almost half the population (47.4 percent) has some kind of degree, Archaumbault said, noting that figure is higher than national workforce statistics.
Though labor statistics; access to interstates and proximity to an international airport; and access to water as a recreation source are strengths for economic development, Archambault said, he did note a number of weaknesses as well.
Traffic congestion and lack of transportation options could work against Huntersville, as could high regional unemployment rates and the lack of public access to Lake Norman. Not having a defined downtown commercial district; and a tax base imbalance weighted towards residential are also issues to be aware of, he said.
While the future of the Red Line Rail project remains unclear, Archambault said the town may want to continue to protect acreage around the rail line from rezoning and residential development until the project’s viability is certain.
He also recommended setting aside up to 1,500 acres for major employment areas, as well as establishing a steering committee for downtown revitalization, among other suggestions.