February 2011

Carrboro received the League of American Bicyclists’ Silver Level Bicycle Friendly City award in fall 2010. Carrboro was the only town in North Carolina, and one of only two in the southeast, to receive the silver award.  On Saturday, February 26, 2011, Bill Naspar, the director of the League’s Bicycle Friendly America program, presented Carrboro with this award at the Looking Glass Café.  There was a large, enthusiastic group of supporters in attendance.  What an honor for our town!   This picture includes members of the Board of Aldermen as well as the Town’s Transportation Advisory Board at the event.

I would like to respond to an article printed in The Chapel Hill Herald on Wednesday, February 2, about economic development in Carrboro.  The article summarized various comments made during our Board of Aldermen retreat held on January 30, a retreat at which no motions were made or votes taken.  The focus of the retreat was economic development, and board members had an opportunity to have a free-flowing conversation nearly all afternoon. 

The comments printed in the article were attributed mostly to Dan Coleman and Jacquie Gist when, in fact, several of us chimed in with our comments on the direction the Board should take.  I would like to take this opportunity to summarize the comments that I made at the retreat, as one could assume from the way the article was written that the entire Board felt the same way about the Chamber, when in fact this is not true.  I am a supporter of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce.  As I told the Board, I always attend the Chamber’s Annual Meeting, where in fact, last year, many Carrboro businesses were recognized and honored.  The Chamber offers benefits that appeal to Carrboro businesses, such as their unique small business health insurance program (offered by Piedmont Health Services) and the opportunity to network with other local businesses.  We have at least seventy businesses that are Chamber members, and I urged the Board to include the Chamber in any economic development effort we have, including having a seat at the table of any new committee we help form.

I recognize that not all of the positions that the Chamber (or any group, for that matter) takes will be in accord with positions that our Board takes.  However, I believe the positives of working with the Chamber outweigh the negatives, particularly in these days of finding our way back to economic prosperity.    

I believe in the local economy model.  As the report from the Local Living Economy Task Force states, “More money re-circulates in your community when you buy from locally owned, rather than nationally owned, businesses.”  Some of the specific action items that came out of the report that we discussed at the retreat are promising:  we want to identify ways for people to “Think Local,” not just “Buy Local,” such as thinking of using local professional services when shopping for attorneys, doctors or architects.  We directed our Economic Sustainability Commission to explore innovative ways to set up a mechanism to invest money locally.  We had a lengthy discussion on how to financially bolster our very successful revolving loan fund.  These are the types of specific efforts I would like the Board to discuss with Chamber officials, and we discussed the idea of having an event with Chamber officials during which we could show them our philosophy in action. 

Ironically, while discussing taking Chamber officials on a tour of Carrboro, we realized that one of the stops might be Southern States, a “chain” store that we think of as a local store.  The local living model recognizes that you cannot always be completely local:  in ascending order, first, you buy less (not so good for economic development, but another core value in a community that believes in the philosophy of reduce, reuse, recycle); then, you buy completely local, meaning from a local store, with locally made goods and locally found input; then you buy with at least one element that is local; then you buy regional; then you buy bi-local or fair trade.  

As I study these concepts, I acknowledge that each community has its own unique geographic and constituent mandates, and that each community cannot exist in a vacuum.  This does not mean Carrboro needs to change its underlying philosophy, nor should we degrade others who do not subscribe entirely to the local living model.  But what we can do is share our position regarding economic development with others in an effort to foster greater understanding.