Instead of predicting what will occur in 2014, let us focus instead on 10 Tar Heel Megatrends that will shape the coming decade in North Carolina.
1. We will be a larger, more diverse and older population
Our population is growing by 100,000 citizens each year and within the next decade will become the eighth most populous state. We will be less Caucasian and more ethnic, with the fastest growing segment being Hispanic. Every six seconds someone turns 60 in the U.S. North Carolina is also greying, growing as an attractive spot for retirees. Look for more emphasis on and resources to address this aging population. Non-native residents will increasingly impact our culture.
2. We will be more urban and less rural
Continued population shifts will blur municipal boundary lines along the I-85 corridor stretching from east of Raleigh through the Triad, around to Charlotte and into South Carolina, eventually extending all the way to Atlanta. The resulting “Megalopolis,” as some are calling it, will compete against regions like the Washington to Boston corridor, Silicon Valley, the Pacific Northwest and Texas for jobs. Our fast-growing areas will demand great planning and policymaking but severe problems in education, healthcare and infrastructure will plague rural areas.
3. Independents, women, older voters and those in the most populous counties will determine election outcomes
26 percent of North Carolina’s registered voters are now unaffiliated and increasing steadily. Democrats, with 60-plus percent of registrations 20 years ago, have shrunk to 43 percent; Republican registrations remain steady at 31 percent. Urban communities are increasingly voting more for Democrats while rural areas elect Republicans. Candidates will target women, older and unaffiliated voters. The 25 most populous counties will essentially determine statewide outcomes. The growing influence of big money special interest groups on TV will continue but voters will become fed up with politicians selecting their voters rather than the other way around, demanding redistricting and campaign reforms.
4. We will see smaller, more transparent government with less divisive leaders
Our history records periodic philosophical pendulum swings. The latest began in 2010, swinging us toward the political right but the pendulum will return to a more moderate posture. North Carolina voters will tire of divisive, partisan politicians and seek consensus builders who work for the common good instead of special interest groups. The trend toward smaller government with fewer ambitious programs will continue, but citizens will insist their government be more transparent and accountable.
5. Our economy will retool and refocus
Large textile, tobacco and furniture manufacturers are gone. Manufacturing is making a comeback but new producers will have smaller payrolls and employ more technology. Tourism and the service sector will expand, especially in healthcare and services to older citizens. Agriculture will continue to play a major role and biotechnology will become increasingly important, dependent on our universities and community colleges to provide researchers and skilled workers. Workers will be required to be more productive and able to adapt quickly to changing circumstances.
6. Our middle class continues to shrink
North Carolina, like the nation, was built by a vibrant middle-class able to purchase houses, cars, furniture and amenities, at the same time affording more education for their children, providing for their healthcare and putting aside money for retirement. The middle class continues to shrink while the rich get richer and the poor increase in numbers. Generation X and Millenials are the first in modern history to believe their futures will not be as bright as that achieved by their parents and grandparents.
7. Public education will change dramatically
Businesses say current education systems are not producing the workforce skills needed and demand reforms. The role of teachers will dramatically change as laptop computers and advanced software dictate they no longer just lecture to students, but morph into coaches, mentors and resource enahancers. Teacher pay and education funding will increase relative to their success in turning out skilled, well-educated workers. Community colleges will assume a greater role in workforce training and the first two years of undergraduate college education. Both public and private colleges will be forced to be more efficient with less revenue, as tuitions and government funding continue to shrink. Distance learning will become commonplace. Universities will focus on post-graduate and research training.
8. We will continue to be less healthy than other states
North Carolina will continue in the bottom third of least healthy states, especially in rural areas, due to obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and other chronic diseases. A shortage of primary care physicians coupled with increased healthcare costs will escalate demands for healthcare reform. Fewer small businesses will provide health insurance benefits to employees. Individuals will be urged to assume more personal accountability for their health outcomes.
9. We will see more infrastructure investment
North Carolina has not made significant improvements in roads, clean water, public schools or other public infrastructure in decades and we are currently paying a price for our shortsightedness. Leaders will advocate greater infrastructure investments, especially roads, and voters will approve public financing, even when resulting in higher taxes, but only when guaranteed dollars will be spent wisely.
10. We continue to be less well informed
No sector has changed more than communications. Newspapers are struggling to survive. Mainstream networks are losing audience shares. Cable news outlets are highly partisan. Young people depend on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show and the Colbert Report, along with sites like The Huffington Post, National Review, Drudge Report and other websites for their news, even though nobody is vetting many of these new media sources for accuracy. People increasingly self-select media sources to which they pay attention but are generally less well informed than they were a generation ago.
Look for these 10 Tarheel Megatrends to shape the decade ahead, requiring bold, visionary leaders who both understand and respond to them.
Campbell is the executive producer and moderator of NC SPIN, a weekly panel discussion on state issues that airs on WMYT “MY TV12” at 10 a.m. on Sundays and on WJZY “CW46” at 6:30 a.m. and 11:05 p.m. on Sundays and on WFMY-TV at 5:30 a.m. Sundays.