Rockingham Now spoke with Reidsville Mayor Jay Donecker. Here’s what he had to say:
Rockingham Now: How are things going so far?
Jay Donecker: It’s actually going very well. We’ve got a great council, a very cohesive council. I think we’ve had a very good series of meetings that made us feel comfortable with the budget that we finally passed. We started meeting in February and passed it at the last meeting.
RN: You’ve been Mayor before. What are you looking to do differently this time?
JD: We have a different set of problems than we did back then. When I was selected the first go-round in 1997, we were aware that American [Tobacco] was going to leave and take 25 percent of the tax base and what propelled me to run at that point was that the obvious solution was to expand the boundaries of the city and do forced annexation. One of the reasons why I ran was because that’s wrong, flat out wrong. Though it would benefit the city by doing it, the benefit doesn’t outweigh the detrimental effect of forcing people to become citizens of the city. This go round, the issue is that we have a very stagnant economy. We have a slow, downward spiral of people who are living here. At least, that has been the case for the last eight years. So, what we need to do is figure out what we can do to make Reidsville not only attractive for the people who pay the taxes now, but attractive for people who may want to move here and then help share the tax burden. That could be small business, manufacturers or someone just relocating here with their family. So, that’s what we’re kind of wrestling with right now, is how to take care of the decaying infrastructure right now, but at the same time promoting Reidsville so that it’s attractive to keep people here. We also want to attract people who go away to the military and once they finish their duty to come back, or people who go out and get trained with a company and are able to get a virtual office to come back and raise their family. People say that we need jobs and there are jobs within five miles of Reidsville. There are over 1,100 job openings that are being advertised but they probably aren’t at the level and the pay that people would need. I do see, though, that there are a number of people, like kids that are graduating from high school but are not going to college. They are not getting engaged with RCC to get them ready for the work force. The figures are 25 percent of the Reidsville High School graduating class will engage with RCC. The state average is 40 percent and our goal for here should be 50 percent. So, that’s another thing that we’re dealing with.
RN: What are some things you are planning to do as Mayor?
JD: The vision is to attract more people to Reidsville and we have to position ourselves so that we fit that bill and we have to become attractive not only to the people who are living here now, but the people who lived here and went away, or people who have been living realistically further north and want to move to a warmer climate, and also those who have cycled through North Carolina for military training.
RN: What are you looking forward to the most?
JD: With our recent hiring of our business development director, Mark Wells, that person is going to oversee the events that we have both downtown and on Market Square and that’s going to serve to create enjoyable atmospheres for the people who live here. Also for people who want to come down on Friday nights to enjoy the cruise-in, or when families want to come and watch “Frozen” outside and also basically make a nice atmosphere here. If you come downtown on Saturday, you can’t find a parking space. When I was mayor before, that was never the case. So, we’re starting to try to get more people to come downtown and enjoy more of the small town atmosphere that we have here.
RN: What has been your hardest hurdle to jump over?
JD: The hardest hurdle is, I would say, getting a manufacturer to take a look at us. Some of the people don’t understand, I work for a large cooperation and large businesses don’t just wake up one day and say ‘We got a phone call from Reidsville, let’s move there.’ They have to put that into their business plan. The hardest part at the moment is just getting in front of those manufacturers that are looking to relocate. For instance, Proctor & Gamble has just put in their third division in Brown’s Summit to produce all of the Oil of Olay for the United States and Canada. So, when they make those products, they have to have outside vendors to supply those basic ingredients. Those vendors may need a place to be located closer to this one. That’s where we’re trying to work to see if we can get any of those vendors to consider relocating here. No success yet. It’s all a process. Interacting with the Chamber [of Commerce] has been fantastic, but really the biggest hurdle has been just getting a structured, promotional conversation going with manufacturers that might locate here.
RN: For those who may not be familiar with you, tell us about yourself.
JD:I have lived her since 1987. Basically, I’m a veterinarian. I oversee research that is being done on horses around the country at various universities. Because it’s occurring all over the United States, I do not have to be located at our headquarters, which is based in Florham Park, New Jersey. So, I have a virtual office right here in Reidsville. I travel about twenty percent of the time. My wife, Anne, and I moved here and raised our kids here. One works for Facebook and the other will be returning from Afghanistan probably in the next couple of weeks. For hobbies, I basically do the job for Zoetis, the company I work for and I then I do the work as Mayor throughout the evenings, days and weekends. On the side I play a little golf and I like to do a little sailing or swimming.