Building on the momentum of a recovering economy was the focus of Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation’s Community Leaders Council (CLC) session, Tuesday, April 22, featuring economist Dr. Harry Davis, CEO Doug Johnson and Chris Robinson, president of Ashe County Job Development.
Moderating the discussion was Alan Merck, director of Key Accounts and Economic Development for Blue Ridge Electric.
The session was held at the Blue Ridge Electric offices in West Jefferson.
Blue Ridge Electric formed the CLC to help community leaders join together in a regional, shared vision and effort to improve the quality of life in each local community served by the cooperative. The group gives input, updates and direction on initiatives in education, economic development, health care and other areas to help set the course for improving Northwest N.C. for residents, families and businesses.
Highlights of the meeting included insights by Davis who said the U.S. economy is showing some positive signs such as the current manufacturing index being at its highest level since 2011 and unemployment rates gradually decreasing. Key areas to be addressed for economic improvement efforts include: the labor participation rate, which is at a 30-year low. As a result, fewer workers are producing wealth and this is trend expected to continue. Davis said immigration reform would help address this by legalizing working individuals so that they contribute to the economy by paying social security and income taxes as well as purchasing homes and property.
Reducing the massive amount of often unnecessary regulations would also boost the economy, Davis said, adding that a “Regulation Czar” may be needed at the federal level to at least put a moratorium on any new regulations. More reasonable mortgage lending rules would also aid the economy by helping first-time home buyers.
Davis said other keys to economic improvement include addressing the debt burden of college education; helping contain health care costs by empowering health care providers other than physicians to offer more services so people avoid going to hospitals when possible; and furthering business and technical school partnerships so that people have the technical skills to fill currently available jobs. The energy sector is also providing major job opportunities and will continue to do so, Davis said.
In his comments to the group, Robinson said that in order to grow, Ashe County leaders must be “creatively discontent.” Robinson explained: “We know what we do well and what we can improve. We must be innovative in our thinking, but we must also be willing to abandon ideas and efforts that don’t work out. We must have leadership that’s focused on the common good, responsive and involved.” Robinson invited the group to share ideas and be part of the strategic planning process that’s begun in Ashe County.
Johnson told the group that while improvements are being realized locally, its leaders have a burden for making it even better. He commended the Ashe County Chamber of Commerce and the county’s engaged business and community leaders. Education and health care as well as housing are key areas of focus, as well as how to keep young, talented employees in the local community. “As leaders, we must be about creating and distributing a great life — so that everyone who wants to stay and have a great life here in Ashe County can do so,” Johnson said.