Monthly Archives: August 2015

If You Aren’t Growing, You Are Dying

SEABROOK SAYS:  GGDC writes about two prime goals: growing jobs and growing the tax base. Every citizen can help everyday: talk up our positives, build our image, make our Gaston a better place.

The Alliance for Growth plan developed by over 100 Gaston County leaders late in 2014 embodies two fundamentally important goals for Gaston County: 1) grow jobs and 2) grow the tax base through greater investment. These goals are premised on the conviction that growth is a positive thing and that a failure to grow inevitably leads at best to mediocrity and at worst to a spiral downward. This condition is exemplified by a quote attributed to numerous authors: “if you aren’t growing, you are dying.” To examine the simple power of this statement, it is helpful to delve deeper into the Alliance for Growth plan and what it can mean to Gaston County’s future growth.

First, we need to acknowledge that growth does create challenges (more demand on public services such as schools, police, fire as well as environmental pressures) and because of that some would argue that growth is neither good nor desirable. We believe this is a very limited view of the potential of a community and its ability to grow in a positive and productive manner. It is also premised on the dubious assumption that somehow it is easier or better to manage a contracting budget, under-utilized school rooms and public safety layoffs, than expansions in those areas. It is said that people “vote with their feet,” and the exodus in America from the declining Rust Belt and Northeast to vibrant and growing New South cities like Charlotte and Austin indicates what most of us believe is better.

If you look at how Gaston County fits into the rapidly-growing Charlotte region, a couple of statistics depict the larger challenges we face. Of all of our peer counties immediately surrounding Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Gaston County has for some time had the slowest rate of population growth. Gaston County also has the highest personal property tax RATE of all those counties (except Lancaster, SC), even higher than Mecklenburg County. Gaston’s lower population growth reflects, among other things, slower job growth here and the misperception that Gaston County is not as desirable a place to live as are some other counties in the region. Lower property values and lower levels of capital investment drive higher tax RATES to generate levels of revenue adequate to provide public services.

The Alliance for Growth plan attacks these challenges head on while also building on Gaston County’s many strengths. As you might expect, many of these challenges and strengths are interrelated. You increase the tax base by increasing both capital investment in and the value of property in Gaston County. Stimulating demand for land through increasing development and higher, more productive use of land will increase the value of land and thus the tax base. This can be accomplished by expanding existing businesses and attracting new businesses, including new residential, commercial, industrial, retail and office users. By stimulating job growth, you provide new and better jobs for residents, and you attract newcomers to Gaston County. These more prosperous residents and newcomers, who work in new or expanded businesses, will drive demand for new retail, homes and professional services.  This is sometimes called a “virtuous circle,” and it certainly applies in Gaston County.

The Alliance for Growth plan envisions a new set of bridges across the Catawba and South Fork Rivers, opening up much better access to and from Charlotte’s I485 outer belt and the region’s job engine at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport and its intermodal yard. The plan has strategies to improve workforce preparedness and career and technical education opportunities, to better match job skills and job opportunities. Likewise, the Alliance for Growth plan includes action steps to reduce the regulatory drag on new businesses and development, and to stimulate entrepreneurs and small businesses. There are also specific action plans for expanding business recruitment, providing more ready-to-develop sites and ready-to-occupy buildings. To capitalize on these many positive actions, we must also improve how a number of key audiences (from newcomers to developers to opinion makers) view Gaston County and our cities and towns. We are pleased to report that we have already made substantial progress on a number of these items, particularly on financing and implementing the plan’s recommendation to develop an Image and Branding campaign for Gaston County.

Growth will surely follow from this new-found focus, commitment and investment in Gaston County by her citizens. After all, the Alliance for Growth plan was developed by Gaston County leaders who have a deep love for this County. They desire to see all of their fellow citizens have the opportunity to experience the American Dream, be that a good, well-paying job, a nice home in a welcoming neighborhood, an inspiring education for their children, abundant recreational opportunities, or any one of a number of other things that make a community great. Working together we can achieve these things and grow to become the leader among counties in the Charlotte region.

Bob Clay, Chair, Greater Gaston Development Corporation                                                                                     Mark Cramer, Executive Director, Greater Gaston Development Corporation

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Life on Life Investment: The Value of Mentoring

SEABROOK SAYS: Matt Kuiken is not just the lead pastor at First ARP, he has vast experience with mentoring school kids. When you read his remarks ask: “Now that I know, shall I volunteer as a mentor?

For the first five minutes we stared at one another. His name was Michael. He was a seven year-old African-American student from a single parent home, and he had requested a mentor. So here I was. I had no idea what to do or say. Yet I had committed to spend an hour a week with this child. And so it began – my first foray into mentoring. I look back at that time now and am amazed that somehow, during the ensuing weeks and months, I not only developed a special bond with this young man, but my eyes were opened to the power of mentoring.

Paul Stanley and Robert Clinton, authors of the book Connecting: The Mentoring Relationships You Need to Succeed in Life, define mentoring as, “A relational process… that facilitates development or empowerment within a mentoree.” In other words, mentoring is an intentional life-on-life investment in another person. For the past fifteen years,  I have been involved in mentoring students and have become convinced that mentoring relationships are a powerful catalyst for community transformation. The essence of the mentoring relationship is to communicate to another person, “You are worth my time,” and to acknowledge that some of the most important lessons in life are caught rather than taught.

There are roughly 32,000 students in the Gaston County School System from K-12. Every year hundreds of Gaston County Students agree to participate in school-based mentoring with an adult volunteer. Tragically, there are almost always more students to be mentored than adults who will mentor them. This has to change. If we truly desire to impact the overall community health of Gaston County, we must be willing to make a life-on-life investment in these student’s lives.

Fran Ellis, who is the Mentor Coordinator for Robinson Elementary School says this, “As a School Counselor, I am convinced that children who have a Mentor are given a gift!  They have one special friend, an adult they can truly count on. Someone who is there to listen and advise them regarding so many important things….Mentors are the saving grace for so many of our students. After developing a real relationship with a student, they teach basics such as making friends, focus in the classroom, using good manners, and keeping your word. This Mentor may be the only adult in their lives who shows them the right path. It is truly a gift which makes all the difference!”

According to recent studies students who meet regularly with a mentor are 52% less likely than their peers to skip a day of school, and 37% less likely to skip a class. Mentored students also are 46% less likely than their peers to start using illegal drugs, and 27% less likely to start drinking. Students in a mentoring relationship experience a reduction in depressive symptoms, and gains in social acceptance, academic attitudes, and grades. The benefits of mentoring for young people can hardly be overstated.

So why don’t we do it? Many of us feel like we don’t have much to offer. Or, we may be insecure about how we would relate to a student from a different race, religion, family background, or socio-economic class. Oftentimes, I simply wonder if I’m too busy to make this commitment. In some regards these are all valid concerns. But then I think of the mentors who took time to invest in me. I think of the conversation I had with one student about his father’s imprisonment. I think of a time with another student where he asked me how to shake hands with an adult. I think of another student who asked me if I thought he had what it takes to be an auto mechanic one day. I have continually been amazed at the impact that can be made by simply showing up.

So would you consider mentoring a student in the Gaston County School System? The commitment involves a simple approval process and one hour a week during the school year. The need is too great and the benefits too significant to ignore this opportunity.

In the coming weeks I will challenge First ARP Church to provide all of the needed mentors for the York Chester Middle School, which sits in our own backyard. My hope is that other churches and individuals will get involved in mentoring as well.

\ If you would like to get involved with mentoring in the Gaston County School System you can contact any school and ask to speak to the Mentor Coordinator. You can also contact Valerie Yatco who is the Director of Business and Community Partnerships for Gaston County Schools (vayatko@gaston.k12.nc.us). Community transformation happens one life at a time. Winston Churchill once said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” I am convinced by one of the most productive and meaningful ways to live is to give of ourselves in mentoring relationships.

Matt Kuiken
Senior Pastor
First Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church