Cloud could brighten our economy

Thank you to Orange Politics for hosting a reception Friday evening for all the Nancy Oatescandidates in our rectangle of Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Hillsborough and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools to meet one another. Perhaps the gratitude comes most strongly from our family and friends who have listened, with eyes glazed, to us go on and on about how to improve things until we finally talked ourselves into running for office. The OP-sponsored meet-and-greet at DSI Comedy Theater gave all of us a chance to air our views with others who also care deeply.

Development decisions figured prominently, especially the Big Three: Ephesus-Fordham, The Edge and Obey Creek. Many candidates agree with the many voters who believe the town needs commercial development, not more apartments. I’ve heard the town’s economic development officer Dwight Bassett say on more than one occasion that businesses want office space where employees can walk to lunch. Yet of the more than 3 million square feet of impervious surface those three projects will generate, about 75% will be apartments.

Developers say they’re trying to attract stores and businesses, but can’t seem to do it. Granted, retail is changing. More people shop online, and brick-and-mortar stores are much smaller than a generation ago. But non-retail businesses are changing, too, and that opens an opportunity to fill some office space in town.

A decade ago, many businesses turned to offshoring to cut costs and ostensibly enhance convenience. A call center in India, for instance, allowed lower personnel costs, and the time difference extended operating hours well beyond 9-5 in the U.S. But in recent years, cloud has had an impact on business transactions, and many companies are finding that it is more cost-effective to build and manage those IT functions in-house. You’d think businesses would want to site those IT offices near a major university in a town with excellent public schools for their employees’ children.

Why not look for companies ripe for such in-house expansion and pitch Chapel Hill?

Maybe that’s what Bassett has been trying to do. If so, it might behoove the town to hire a young upstart to assist him, someone conversant in ITO, BPO, SIAM and SaaS and all those other acronyms for functions that mean something to recent business school grads.

Not that Bassett doesn’t shine at attracting traditional businesses. But commerce is changing, and the longer you do something one way, the harder it is to shift to a new mode. I should know. I’ve been struggling to put aside my print newspaper and email to make room for Facebook and Twitter. And after that, there’s Instagram, Pintrest, Snapchat and Periscope.

We hear developers tout that “if you don’t grow, you die.” I’d rather see Chapel Hill evolve to keep our local economy strong, our taxes affordable and our traffic jams to a minimum.
– Nancy Oates

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23 Comments

  1. .

     /  July 20, 2015

    What business has Dwight Bassett attracted to Chapel Hill?

  2. Mark Marcoplos

     /  July 20, 2015

    Beware of quick decisions to (ostensibly) increase the tax base. Former County Manager Clifton was a big fan of running forward quickly. One-term Commissioner Hemminger was a minion of his. The Eno Economic Development District was one of Clifton’s attempts to run roughshod over a local community’s efforts to be heard and become part of the process. Where was Hemminger when the local community said “slow down and look at the impact?” She joined in with Clifton’s clarion call for more economic development ASAP. This was disrespectful of the community and indicative of a rudderless politician.

  3. Nancy

     /  July 20, 2015

    Mark, what economic development project in Hillsborough should have been eliminated? Other than the offices anchored by Whole Foods and the free parking deck, I haven’t seen many changes in Hillsborough in the almost 20 years I’ve lived here. If Hemminger can bring office space, a grocery store and free parking to Downtown Chapel Hill, she’d succeed where the current mayor and council have failed. .

  4. many

     /  July 20, 2015

    Wow Mark, that is a tough assessment. Sounds a bit bitter. I for one do not share it. I found Pam to be thoughtful and willing to listen. i had occasion to talk to her fairly regularly and although we did not always agree, I felt respected and the feeling was mutual.

    I would assess Frank Clifton as being a fiscally responsible realist. In my recollections he pointed out the fiscal vulnerabilities of the counties spending, “grounding” some of the less fiscally concerned commissioners and put finances in perspective. Mr Clifton also took full advantage of the interest rate environment to solidify the lowest possible terms for public debt. I feel the same way about his successor Michael Talbert and special mention goes to Clarence Grier as well. All of them were professional and cared about the success of the county. We were lucky to have them and are lucky to still have a professional like Paul Laughton as well. I do not know enough about Bonnie Hamersley to judge for myself yet, but so far my take is positive.

    As far as “the cloud” goes I think it is high time to focus on particular technologies and industries for economic development. We need to realize though that the recent trend toward “on shoring” is more due to automation and robotics than because talent, patriotism or altruism. We need to encourage industries that will have a manufacturing or rapid prototyping component and have some intention of employing locally rather than just importing workers or having them work remotely.

    The business climate you want is one of innovation and with a focus on a particular area of expertise. In Chapel hill that would be generally medicine. When you think of the broad range of applications from subject matter experts in medical telemetry to brain function, from 3d printed body parts to cellular and dna therapies or neurological integration with prosthesis the possibilities are pretty amazing.

    Chapel Hill also has impressive credentials in government and law. Preparing to codify the applications into workable law and regulation and patent protection is also where there is significant subject matter expertise.

    Besides those two areas, Chapel Hill used to have a thriving artistic community, re invigorating that would go a long way to providing a balance to the technological and political.

  5. Bonnie Hauser

     /  July 20, 2015

    Many I couldn’t agree more. About Pam and ED. The EDDs were ignored for 20 (30?) years, and there’s been little action since Morinaga. Most of us – especially the community – are holding out hope that the county’s $10 million investment in sewer in Efland pays off with jobs and workforce housing,

    On Pam too. Pam was a great commissioner who excelled at genuine engagement, collaboration and respect for others. Not sexy – but essential to shape a lot of important policy around schools, emergency services, the landfill and Rogers road, and yes economic development.

  6. Terri

     /  July 21, 2015

    I support doing whatever needs to be done to keep UNC start ups here in Orange County, whether they are technical, medical, or social. It seems wasteful for the town to fund the Rosemary St incubator and then not provide affordable, flexible office space so that those entrepreneurs can stay and grow their companies here. A few years ago, I asked Dwight Bassett why we don’t have an economic development plan that identifies the types of businesses appropriate for Chapel Hill. He told me the town wasn’t “ready for that.” Never have figured out what that response meant.

    Regarding Pam, I will say up front and out loud that she has my total support. Every dealing I’ve ever had with Pam has highlighted her integrity and forthright interest in doing what is best for the community. I don’t know anything about her relationship with Frank Clifton, but I do know that 98% of all the staff and elected officials that despised the man, all agree that he saved the county from financial disaster and they respected that part of the job he did. Painting Pam as guilty by association is just the start of the negative campaigning I expect she will have to endure. But I for one, see such a claim for what it is: one person’s biased and uninformed view.

  7. Rainbow Soccer has endorsed Pam right out of the gate:

    “Rainbow Soccer has been the beneficiary of Pam’s guidance and passion for many years. As a board member she has helped us complete field renovations, provide financial aid to over 200 players every season and continue to provide budgetary guidance and vision for the future. Now the town of Chapel Hill will enjoy her energy and broad thinking as the town faces a future full of change. We support this wonderful woman and what she stands for. Good luck Pam!”

    http://www.rainbowsoccer.org/home/805528.html

  8. anon

     /  July 21, 2015

    a grocery store, a parking deck, and office space is a better deal for residents in terms of net Town/County/School taxes than what’s approved for the Edge which from what I can tell is mostly residential.

    Don’t think Mark is trying to give Pam ideas to show how a development she supported is better for taxpayers than the edge supported by town council….

  9. many

     /  July 21, 2015

    Just for clarity, Dwight Bassett is Chapel Hill’s economic development officer, not Orange County’s.

    “Wasn’t ready for that”….. Really? What is it that he has done to fix that in the past three years?

    I seem to remember Mr. Bassett saying in 2012 (after returning from a mysterious 7 month hiatus in Raleigh) that Chapel Hill could not target specific business because of a lack of office space inventory. I recall at the same time he said nothing was more important than Carolina North. Publicly anyway, not much has happened there since but the economic development of a public/private Life Science campus seems like it should have.

    I would expect a private developer/REIT would jump at the chance to build lab/office facility/campus that could be leased to UNC, private companies, government and include an entrepreneurial element to glue the three together. This is the sort of business model that is successfully happening right now elsewhere on both coasts and returning easily a safe +7% to investors.

    The idea of economic planning that identifies the types of businesses appropriate for Chapel Hill needs to be a serious conversation and I remain shocked at that comment and curious about what exactly are the town is waiting for to have that conversation?

  10. Mark Marcoplos

     /  July 22, 2015

    “Biased & uninformed”? I participated in this specific issue up-close as a Planning Board member and witnessed the BOCC voting. As was often the case at meetings, Hemminger said little or nothing before voting.

  11. many

     /  July 22, 2015

    Mark,

    Based on your obvious knowledge, I am curious about your recollection of the Eno Economic Development District discussion. Do you have some insight because you live there? It seems as if Eno has been developed along the 70 and I-85 corridor for a while. Concept plans began in the early 1990’s and have floundered mostly because of infrastructure (water, sewer, transit etc) Which iteration are you talking about?

    Formal plan 2008: there were at least 5 property owned reps in the mix as I recall Valerie Foushee was the council rep.

    Plan update 2013: (which seems to me like the next level of detail and refinement of the original 2008 plan, mostly infrastructure) Agreement for water & sewer provided by Durham, TTA bus service, widening of i-85, closure of Greenbrier RR crossing, traffic widening of 70 & Mt. Herman, rezoning and identification of 10 year zoning transition….etc.

    I do not recall much concern voiced from property owners in the area.

    I agree land use must match zoning and if I understand the map correctly it does now.

    What else? Do you object to Durham likely expanding into Orange County from the east?

    You might disagree with the Eno EDD development idea entirely, but I fail to see the reason for any special singling out of commissioner Hemminger.

  12. Terri

     /  July 22, 2015

    You threw out some mud at someone I like and respect with no supporting information, Mark. That’s where the ‘uninformed’ in my comment came from.

    BTW, I didn’t know that speaking on every topic was an important criteria for measuring an elected official’s performance. Personally, I find it refreshing that someone listens. It’s a trait I respect in all of the OC commissioners.

  13. Mark Marcoplos

     /  July 22, 2015

    I supported the eventual rezoning required to make the Eno EDD functional. So did just about everyone who lives there. However, many had lingering concerns about some details. All they wanted was more time to work out reasonable compromises and solutions to these issues. A number of these folks came to the Planning Board and to BOCC meetings to express their thoughts. There was absolutely no reason why the communities concerns should not have been honored by taking a couple more months to refine the plan. Barry Jacobs made some eloquent remarks, reminding the Board that Orange County had never steamrolled a community’s concerns like they were poised to do with the Eno folks.

  14. many

     /  July 22, 2015

    Mark, That sounds a lot less onerous than your original post. Sounds more like every development project I have ever heard about, especially in Orange County NC. What specific concerns were “steamrolled”? (your words). What specific refinements should have been made to the plan?

    Call me cynical, but my observation is that commissioner Jacobs tends to become very eloquent in his fight for truth, justice and the American way right before the upcoming primary. If I recall correctly, this November 2013 QPH was one of those occasions.

  15. bonnie hauser

     /  July 22, 2015

    The board meeting is a breeding ground for political antics – even though the decisions have been made. Unlike Jacobs and others, Pam seriously and continuously works to get issues resolved and pieces in place before the vote. That’s leadership

    IMO – pontificating after the fact – is just cheap politics

  16. Mark Marcoplos

     /  July 23, 2015

    There were normal concerns about types of activities, buffers, etc. as well as the ongoing impact of Gorilla Materials, a pretty big materials recycling facility. I think the public hearing was maybe in 2012. It wasn’t on the heels of the election cycle. And Barry actually made his statement at a meeting before the one where the vote was taken. I was there for the process on this issue. All I can say is that Barry was absolutely right on this one and Pam did not have much to say. Maybe she was practicing black-belt listening or maybe her leadership skills were so powerful that she did not want the public exposed to them, but all she did was quietly vote against a significant number of community members who had legitimate concerns and were requesting a reasonable extension of the process to deal with them. In my opinion, the single most important leadership quality for local governance is a commitment to ensuring that decisions are made democratically in an open process and that affected communities concerns are understood and dealt with fairly. Most of the Board fell short on this issue. I believe it was due partly to Clifton’s pressure and partly to weak Board members.

  17. many

     /  July 23, 2015

    Mark,

    Maybe we are thinking of different meetings.

    I recall Gorilla Materials was an issue. Noise and dust. However I think that they had permits in order for a long time and there was not much anyone could do to change that.

    The concern was over ed1 vs. ed2 and if it would allow Gorilla to expand, but I also think that zoning change was table stakes specifically to align with Durham so that the infrastructure would be built. The landowners largely wanted or were ambivalent to rezoning. The folks south of 10 did not want the change. Rock/Hard place.

    The latest documents I can find show that the Eno edd update was adopted November 19, 2013, a little more than five months before the democratic primary in may 2014. I remember thinking to myself that Barry was running already. I also think realistically the land between 70 and 10 (with I-85 in the middle) is one of those places where I would expect this sort of development to occur eventually, eh?

    In the end I seem to recall opposition faded. Decisions _were_ made democratically in an open process and the concerns were heard.

    I think the meeting you are referring to when residents showed up en mass was in early 2012. At that time the plan was deferred by a vote of 5-1 with Steve Yuhasz casting the dissenting vote.

    Still, based on what I can recall and research I find it difficult to understand why you are singling out Hemminger on this…….?

  18. Mark Marcoplos

     /  July 27, 2015

    Barry’s statement was made in 2012. You can call it “campaigning”, I guess. You can call any comments made by officials “campaigning”. What I heard was one of the two longest serving member of the BOCC issuing a reminder to the relatively new members that they were rushing forward at Clifton’s behest at the expense of a fair process for the community members. Everyone was very quiet during the proceedings, except for Yuhasz who was hot to trot and Barry. All the others acquiesced in the accelerated vote, in the service of “Economic Development”.

  19. many

     /  July 27, 2015

    Mark, and the record shows that in that meeting in 2012 the plan was deferred by a vote of 5-1 with Steve Yuhasz casting the dissenting vote. Where’s the beef?

  20. Mark Marcoplos

     /  August 1, 2015

    The vote to re-zone occurred shortly after that meeting.

  21. many

     /  August 2, 2015

    Mark. How is that different from what I typed earlier? Each time I research this I come up with the same timeline and facts.

    The EDD was created in 2008 by interlocal agreement by the Durham-Chapel Hill-Orange Work Group (DURCHO) of which Jacobs is a member (adopted finally in January 2012, the agreement included the land use amendments and zoning alignment Jacobs complained were “rushed”).

    The NIMs with Durham, Orange and the residents happened in Feb 2012, and there were concerns. Additional NIMs and hearing were held in February, April and May.

    The vote you first referenced was about April 2012 and it was to delay and reevaluate 5-1 with Yuhasz dissenting. Which is what I thought you were complaining about originally.

    In September 2012 the county aligned land use with the both Orange and Durham zoning. (which I now think is what you were actually complaining about?) Passed 5-2 (Gordon and Jacobs dissenting mostly on the subjective idea of being “rushed”, but as I pointed out above the land use alignment was already agreed to w/Durham and both Jacobs and Gordon were well aware of this January 2012 agreement with Durham, which is why I call it campaigning or demagogic if you prefer)

    Durham began extending utilities in early 2013. I think a proposed train station was added in mid 2013 and another NIM was held. The November 2013 meeting was to approve the DoT transportation plan. There was community opposition and a petition that opposed the 2008 agreement with Durham, train station removed but still references as a possibility. DoT had additions to intersections and roads. Plan was revisited (and adopted) by the OCBOCC in November 2013 and further 10 year “transition plans” were included 5-2. Dorosin and Price dissenting – over transportation details not zoning.

    BTW this area is planned for annexation by Durham (not sure when) and additional public hearings and NIMs were held by Durham city and I expect there will be more in the future.

    Based on the map, the I-85, NC70 and rail infrastructure and growth projections it is a natural and logical place for economic development, as is happening from the West based on similar agreements with Mebane. Concerns are of course always valid, however the plan is hardly “rushed” and has been gestating and progressing slowly for more than 7 years. Each time the plan has moved forward with the majority vote (mostly including Jacobs).

    I believe most of the land owners of the EDD support the change and the genesis of the petition and majority of signatories were moved to the 10 year transition area. (I might be wrong, but I think that’s a true statement)

    Your singling out Hemminger is definitely not supported by any fact I can find. Can you provide some supporting evidence or somehow explain the attempt at historical revisionism?

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