North Carolina's return to "The Roaring Twenties"

Published December 31, 2020

By Tom Campbell

When the last of the three waves of the 1918 Spanish Flu subsided in 1920, America began an incomparable period of economic growth, good times and opportunity called “The Roaring Twenties.” If, as expected, the current pandemic diminishes later this year North Carolina could enjoy a return to those times. Let’s picture some of the opportunities.
Opportunity for community. We are weary from being home so much of the time and we yearn for friendships and relationships. Churches will have a great opportunity to act as a gathering spot for fellowship and for worship. Look for the revitalization of civic clubs, neighborhood and community groups as people want community.
Opportunity for rural renewal. Working from home will continue and even if work requires a day or so a week in the office, corporations have learned they don’t need so much rented space. There will be opportunities to convert office buildings for other uses. Workers have learned they can live where real estate prices are lower and living is more casual. Rural communities have opportunity to offer amenities to younger singles and families, as well as retirees ready to downsize and slow down.
Opportunity for political power shifts. Many who move from urban to rural areas tend to be Democrats. Rural North Carolina has been decidedly red Republican, but the new influx might enable Democrats to become more competitive.  
Opportunity for more harmonious politics. North Carolinians are tired of the divisive, ugly, partisan political climate. Our leaders have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to demonstrate statesmanship, most especially in our legislative and executive branches. A non-partisan redistricting commission would be a good signal, as would bipartisan cooperation in passing a budget that didn’t result in vetoes and lawsuits. Our leaders could also gain public trust by using our huge surplus to embark on a program to build or restore infrastructure. Not only would it create jobs, but these efforts would demonstrate at home and across the country that North Carolina intends to lead post-pandemic.
Opportunity for statewide broadband. Too many cannot participate in education, business or today’s amenities because of non-existent or sketchy Internet broadband. Just as the Rural Electrification Act of 1936 helped provide electricity for rural areas, North Carolina could make low-interest loans to ensure the entire state benefitted from 5-G high-speed broadband Internet, using the successful Electric Membership Co-op model. This would open new opportunities in education, communications, commerce, and culture.
Opportunities for education. The pandemic has exacerbated the urgency for education reform. Virtual learning is clearly a path for the future, but North Carolina was ill-prepared initially and still hasn’t demonstrated how to employ it successfully. Not since the education “renaissance” under Charles B. Aycock, where a new school was built every day, has there been a greater opportunity to leapfrog into state-of-the-art education reform, both in k-12, as well as in higher education. Lower tuition costs, expanded availability and greater accountability are necessary. Additionally, we need renewed cooperation and transitions among our k-12, 58 community colleges and 16 public universities.  
Opportunities for commerce. Many businesses failed during the pandemic, but the opportunity for entrepreneurs and innovators is great. Low-interest capital has been sitting on the sidelines and is available and demand is perhaps even increased. Entrepreneurs who focus
on new ideas, value and expert customer service will succeed handsomely. New or re-opened restaurants will find customers eager to enjoy innovative concepts with good food, good service and good experiences. Consumers will continue to shop online with trustworthy firms who offer timely and no-cost deliveries.
A new year has dawned. The slate is clean. Situations won’t be perfect. People will both surprise and disappoint us. We can make 2021 a great year. As the late Winston Churchill said, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
Let us be optimists and restore “The Roaring Twenties.”