Rebuilding Western North Carolina in a Post-Pandemic World

May 8, 2020

 

The jobs report is out and the numbers are dire. Unemployment is at 14.7 percent, Depression-level despair. It will take years for the country to recover.

We won’t go back to the way it was, and I’ll tell you this now: We shouldn’t. Western North Carolina’s poverty rate already was above the national average before the coronavirus pandemic. Jobs didn’t pay well enough and here’s one result: A report this week in the Asheville Citizen Times noted that one in four children in Western North Carolina didn’t have enough food to last a weekend.

Let’s not go back to that. Let’s find a better path forward.

I’m often asked, how can we bring good jobs that pay well to Western North Carolina? It’s not magic. When this pandemic is over — and it will end — we need to create an environment where businesses want to be here and where entrepreneurs want to start-up businesses.

So how do we do that?

What is it that attracts businesses to an area? Well, if a business wants to start-up or relocate to Western North Carolina, it’s going to expect access to broadband internet. Few businesses can function in the 21st century without reliable connectivity. But there are some counties in our region where half the population doesn’t have access to broadband internet service. For most companies, that’s simply a
nonstarter.

If a business cares about its employees – and many companies do – it looks at the region and decides if
its employees will be happy living there. Quality of life matters and we have a great quality of life in some respects. Except one critical quality of life factor is healthcare and that’s a big problem in Western North Carolina. There are some counties where there aren’t enough doctors and some counties where
pregnant women can’t see an obstetrician or give birth because obstetrical services are unavailable. That can be a deal breaker for businesses considering whether to start-up or relocate to our area.

Employers look at the availability of workers with the training and skills required to meet their needs. They also assess the local schools because educating their children and the children of their employees is a key quality of life measure. North Carolina hasn’t made sufficient investments in education for years and the impact hits particularly hard in rural areas, which encompass most of Western North Carolina. Children in North Carolina’s rural schools rank 34th in the nation — the bottom one-third — in math and reading skills. We’re not providing the educational foundation our children deserve and we’re not producing a trained and skilled workforce that attracts employers.

Strike three.

We have poverty rates above the national average in almost every county in Western North Carolina because we are not attracting high-paying jobs and the jobs that are here don’t pay enough. That was true before Covid-19 arrived and it will still be true when we’re on the other side of the pandemic.

To create a strong and sustainable economy, we’ve got to change. We can’t keep marching along with the Republican drummers – taking healthcare away, ignoring the need for broadband internet access and underfunding public education in order to cut the budget and give tax breaks to big corporations and the richest among us.

These shortsighted policies in Washington and Raleigh are hurting Western North Carolina.

I want to foster green jobs and green technology because it makes good sense. They’re good jobs that pay well. They’re good for the environment, which is so important for our tourism-based economy. And they’re good for national security because if we’re energy independent here at home we don’t need to send our troops to defend foreign oil.

North Carolina ranks second in the country in solar energy production. We should be manufacturing those solar panels right here. So how do we attract those jobs?

1. We invest in infrastructure to make broadband available throughout Western North Carolina.
2. We immediately expand Medicaid on the state level, but we also create a public option so that everyone has access to healthcare. More access also means more healthcare jobs to meet the needs of our communities.
3. We invest in educating our students for the high tech jobs of today and tomorrow so there is a workforce in Western North Carolina that’s a magnet for employers.

Or we can keep voting against our own interests and with the Republicans who’ve led us into high poverty, a healthcare crisis and a resource-starved educational system that’s not setting the next generation up for success.

The future of Western North Carolina is on the ballot on November 3rd. The choice is yours.

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1 Comment

  • Healthcare will be the MOST important issue of the next election. Conservatives will have to
    lie effectively in order to have a chance to win in November!

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