Back Over the River and Through the Woods

| November 28, 2014

Tom Campbellby Tom Campbell, Executive Producer and Moderator, NC SPIN, November 27, 2014.

“Over the river and through the woods” is the song that conjures up fond memories of holiday trips to celebrate with loved ones. Shortly after the first Thanksgiving early settlers started migrating west in search of cheaper, less crowded and more available land. Ironically, today’s cheaper, less crowded and open land is more often found in the rural east and far western sections early settlers left.

The litany of rural problems grows longer each year; beginning with the exodus of young people, empty storefronts, declining health and inadequate and crumbling infrastructure. But as we enter this holiday season there is reason to hope for rural North Carolina.

While population shifts have resulted in fewer rural lawmakers a close examination shows many of the powerful leaders come from rural counties, including Cleveland, Rutherford, Wayne, Onslow, Rockingham, and Henderson. Rural leaders must understand that in this era of smaller, less intrusive governments their solutions won’t come from Raleigh, but it helps to have sympathetic legislative leaders.

A further reason to hope comes from The Rural Center. Like the mythical ‘Rise of the Phoenix’ this organization has spent the last year in a thorough self-examination of its mission and leadership and has risen to become a renewed, re-energized force ready to assume the needed role as the lead advocate and cheerleader for rural North Carolina. That evaluation reinforced the need for cooperative partnerships from business, non-profits, agribusiness, religious and education groups in finding new solutions to rural problems.

To illustrate, the Carolina Population Center at UNC Chapel Hill, partnered with economists from East Carolina University to help rural communities better understand the past, present and projected demographics and economics of an area, information essential to developing a rural strategic plan. The Golden Leaf Foundation, along with other corporations and foundations can help provide start-up funding with local businesses, churches and civic groups providing other resources. The Rural Center can be the repository helping put resources and people together. Even some counties within regions are learning the value of cooperating rather than competing with each other.

Some will take advantage of natural resources to develop hospitality and tourism. Others will expand amenities for the growing number of retirees searching for a better climate and more gracious living. Yes, there is a place for manufacturing, but not yesterday’s big box plants. Nearby community colleges will help prepare workers for new technologies and skills required by employers hiring fewer employees using advanced manufacturing. And let us never underestimate the economic power and potential of agriculture. Fewer than 1 in 10 works on a farm today but agriculture is tasked with doubling food production over the next few years and is critical to rural success.

In some instances mandates will force us to participate. For example, the courts have ruled all children are entitled to basic rights of education and the state must comply; rulings regarding other services are likely to follow. And larger cities are learning what happens when too many people clog up roads and place demands on water, sewer and other public services. Thankfully, many love and want the rural way of life, but we’re all in this effort together.
Over the river and through the woods can be the road to a better rural North Carolina.

Category: NC SPIN Perspectives - Opinions from NC Leaders & Organizations

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