Local governments everywhere continue to look for signs of a recovering economy. When tenants disappear, landlords can’t pay the property taxes that, in turn, pay for a variety of public services. When retail sales fall, so does a government’s share of sales tax. Budget season gets media coverage in May and June, but it starts in January.
A month ago I introduced the Planning Commission Index, or “PCI” as a unique, local marker of economic activity. The PCI tells us how many local projects are being started. Rezoning applications are rough indicators of local entrepreneurial confidence and banks’ lending practices to small businesses.
The PCI is helpful because it’s simple and because national headlines are too confusing. Let’s look at just one example. On January 27, 2010, my hometown paper, the High Point Enterprise ran the following headlines on the same business page:
“Ford to bring 1,200 jobs to Chicago” and “Home Depot to lay off 1,000”
“Consumer confidence rises” and “Market slides on financial stocks”
“IMF: Global economy recovering” and “Nucor 4Q profit falls 44%”
I can decipher some of this information, but it remains confusing and inconsistent. So let’s return to the PCI using the same random communities I picked a month ago.
The High Point Planning Commission meets January 26th and has an agenda that is comprised entirely of staff initiated street abandonments, one university (non-profit) rezoning for fraternities and sororities, and two other large (non-profit) institutional requests to amend conditional use permits issued a decade ago. Not a good local PCI for growth and expansion in the private markets.
The Wilmington Planning Commission didn’t even meet in January, skipping from December 2nd to February 3rd. No February agenda is available on their website, but I note that local governments typically cancel a regularly scheduled meeting when there is no business to attend to.
The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Planning Board met January 14th. The board considered two text amendments, one church’s development plan and three insignificant rezonings of .65, .34 and 2.19 acres respectively. Still no sign of life.
Randolph County’s planning board meets February 2nd to consider only ‘a special use permit related to a veterinarian’s office and a 33 acre development for 19 homes. The latter could be a positive omen or a fluke. It’s early to tell and difficult to say without knowing more about its financing.
And finally, the City of Greensboro Zoning Commission has shown a little bit of activity with seven private-initiative rezonings, most involving small tract residential to residential or residential to moderate commercial changes. If the trend continues into March I would consider this a PCI trend rather than a blip.
So what’s next? Wait for a formal index to appear a month from now when I add several more cities and counties to the list. New additions will be more evenly distributed across the state. Over time maybe we’ll all get to see a graph with a line that rises left to right.
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