Economic development gets personal for District 3 incumbent

by Eric Ginsburg

Economic development isn’t just Greensboro City Councilman Zack Matheny’s passion — it’s personal for him. When his job with Bell Partners was cut in late 2011, three days before Christmas with no severance, addressing unemployment became a necessity.

“When they eliminated my job… my wife was three months pregnant and I had two other kids,” said Matheny, the District 3 councilman. “I didn’t know what to do.”

Faced with a lack of local jobs and the prospect of having to move in order to support his family, Matheny formed his own company, White Oak Capital, a few months later.

Being laid off influenced him “significantly,” and drives his work as a councilman, including initiating a council task force on economic development, which he chairs. That means helping to brand and market downtown, the entire city at highway interchanges and creating shovel-ready development sites that companies say is a primary factor in deciding where to locate.

“I challenge our economic development constantly,” he said. “It’s fun and we’re doing some really good stuff for our community.”

A lot has changed since Matheny was first elected to council in 2007. Besides starting a company, he went from a single 34-year-old to a married 40-year-old with three kids. As he put it, he went from being a member at Churchill’s to a member of the Children’s Museum and Greensboro Science Center, but Matheny said he hasn’t lost touch with the demographic he was a part of three election cycles ago.

“[Getting older] doesn’t mean I forget,” Matheny said. “My life has changed significantly.”

Greensboro has changed, and Matheny said he’s grown with it.

As a candidate, Matheny emphasized that he has been “a major player in building consensus on council,” that he has concrete ideas that he’s acting on and that he does his homework on issues.

District 3 encompasses a large portion of downtown, and though Matheny has lots of ideas for the center city — uniform lighting, programming on top of parking decks and expanding outdoor dining on Elm Street among them — he said he only spends 10 to 15 percent of his council time on downtown.

In a small side room off of his North Elm Street office, Matheny gestured towards stacks of papers and binders on several shelves. This is his “war room,” where he keeps track of pertinent information on a wide array of council items. It’s challenging to manage what often feels like 270,000 priorities — the city’s approximate population — but Matheny said he tries to give each issue the appropriate amount of respect and diligence.

In addition to focusing on economic development, Matheny said he is also very focused on public safety,

as evident in his involvement in the entertainment security ordinance, implementing the teen curfew and conducting numerous neighborhood meetings on public safety.

When council recently re-implemented the teen curfew downtown, Matheny said it was just part of the solution but was a necessary step. The candidate said he would also like to see a venue created that would give kids a place of their own. Maybe a warehouse with a DJ and off-duty officers working, he suggested.

One of the things Matheny is most proud of during his tenure on council is the city’s success in nurturing economic development during a major recession without raising property taxes. He cited his work with Councilwoman Nancy Vaughan and Coliseum Director Matt Brown to involve the city in supporting a downtown performing arts center “without doing it on the back of taxpayers,” as an example of his role in such development.

Being on city council is a significant amount of work — sometimes 40 hours a week — he said, adding that he doesn’t get much rest.

“I put forward a lot of effort in this job,” Matheny said.