Legislators on the Joint Economic Development and Global Engagement Committee recently heard North Carolina leaders in economic growth offer sobering observations on the rural-urban divide. As the urban areas around Raleigh and Charlotte rapidly gain businesses and population, dozens of rural counties are losing jobs and population. The top leaders in the House and Senate represent mostly rural areas and they are frustrated.
In not-too-distant memory, hosiery and textiles mills were jobs providers in small communities across the state. Globalization on the eve of the 21st century shuttered most of the mills. Surviving manufacturers have downsized and turned to automation. As a result thousands of people have migrated to urban areas for jobs demanding skilled personnel and for a lifestyle with more attractions.
Implications for North Carolina involve education, infrastructure, regulatory issues, and financing, the legislators were advised. Of all jobs available in North Carolina at the beginning of 2018, 59 percent required education beyond high school. Also, according Chris Chung, director of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, infrastructure tops the list of priorities for business prospects. Highways and access to markets are among most important concerns.
The growth trends in North Carolina are reflected in the incentive grants. The state paid $421.7 million to companies in the North Central area that includes Wake and Durham Counties. The Southwest area dominated by Mecklenburg County received $34l.4 million for business growth. Some $87.7 million went to companies in the Triad. By contrast companies qualifying in the Southeast area of the state were given $22.9 million.
The legislators are evaluating two North Carolinas: the fast-paced urban centers and the struggling rural communities depending on agriculture, small and medium-sized traditional manufacturing companies, and dealing with smaller populations. Strategies and goals are elusive.