Blue Ridge Electric’s Community Leaders Council met at Jefferson Landing last night, where 115 attendees heard Secretary of Commerce Sharon Decker speak on economic recovery and development in rural N.C..
“North Carolina has an important goal: to keep the business climate competitive,” said Decker to an assembly of community and business leaders that included Ashe County commissioners Larry Rhodes, Gary Roark and Williams Sands, West Jefferson Mayor Dale Baldwin and Town Manager Brantley Price, Rep. Jonathon Jordan, Chamber of Commerce Director Cabot Hamilton and the Blue Ridge Electric Board of Directors.
“If you don’t work for the economic health of your community, it won’t happen,” she said.
Given the continuing urbanization of N.C. during its lagging recovery from the Great Recession, Decker said, “Our rural communities have been hit the worst.”
“Rural counties have been getting poorer as the metropolitan areas grow,” she said.
Decker outlined some “tenants of community development” as a strategy for rural community recovery.
“First, focus on health,” she said. “Every North Carolinian deserves a healthy life.”
North Carolina has higher-than-average rates of heart disease and obesity: poor public health statistics which, in turn, affect the health of the state, she said. “We’ve got a real mess with Medicaid.”
“The focus on (the availability of) organic, clean food is very important. There’s still a lot of hungry people in the state,” she said.
Decker stressed the importance of education in economic development, applauding the efforts made by counties like Ashe. Companies looking at rural N.C. are impressed with the accessibility of the community college system and apprenticeships, she said.
Praising the state government’s successes with deregulation, Decker said, “This state is wired for business.” Economic development should focus on aggressive recruiting of business to N.C., and “helping those already in business stay there, and expand,” she said.
Art, culture and tourism are “almost equal to manufacturing,” as N.C. domestic products, and “are going to play a very major part” in economic recovery and development, she said.
The state’s celebrated quality of life must be preserved by protecting the environment, she said. “The environment is what makes N.C. appealing.”
“The role of Blue Ridge Electric in this process is critical,” Decker said.