2010 Rural Partners Forum
November 4-5, 2010
North Raleigh Hilton
Rural North Carolina has the tools at its disposal to help it overcome the fallout from the recession, Rural Center President Billy Ray Hall said in opening the center’s annual forum Nov. 4. The state on the whole is gaining population, boasts a gross domestic product of $400 billion and was voted the third best state for business by Forbes magazine.
“All these numbers come together to say, ‘We can make it work for rural North Carolina,’” he said.
But the road will not be smooth. More than 700,000 rural North Carolinians live in poverty, over 200,000 are unemployed and 12 rural counties are losing population.
“We’ve got a long way to go to grow the rural economy and regain the jobs we’ve lost,” Hall said.
The forum provided a fast-paced overview of five strategies to combat recession, grow jobs and create wealth in rural communities. The strategies focus on sectors with the greatest potential to stimulate rural economies in the immediate future.
The center also unveiled plans for the North Carolina Capital Access Program, a loan-loss reserve program that will free up to $800 million in capital for small businesses across the state.
Economic Strategy 1: Don’t forget the tried and true…
Even as North Carolina embraces new and emerging industries, traditional sectors such as education, health care and construction retain the power to create jobs and drive economic development. These industries also address critical needs in rural communities.
“In economic development, the best opportunities are often those right in front of us,” said Frank Stasio, panel moderator and host of “The State of Things” on WUNC.
Scott Ralls, President, N.C. Community College System
Lestine Hutchens, Mayor, Town of ElkinRead the summary.
Laura Gerald, Executive Director, N.C. Health and Wellness Trust Fund
Sam Hunter, President and CEO, T.A. Loving Co.
Economic Strategy 2: Re-imagine Your Traditional Industries
The last decades have been marked by a drop in the economic impact of industries such as agriculture and manufacturing in North Carolina. Speakers at the forum, however, said that there is still tremendous potential for these and other traditional industries to breathe life back into the state economy.
The key is to embrace new and emerging possibilities in these industries, such as the local foods market and value-added agriculture. If approached in different ways, agriculture and manufacturing can remain competitive and continue to generate jobs in rural North Carolina.
Larry Wooten, President, N.C. Farm Bureau
Dale Carroll, Deputy Secretary, N.C. Department of Commerce
Economic Strategy 3: Tap into Emerging Industries...
Though North Carolina has built its economy on agriculture, textiles and other traditional industries, its highly skilled workforce and abundant natural resources are attracting new and emerging industries with the potential to ramp up the state economy.
Speakers at the forum explored how industries such as clean energy and biotechnology are faring after the economic downturn and whether state, federal and local governments are providing the resources needed to cultivate them.
Ivan Urlaub, Executive Director, N.C. Sustainable Energy Association
Norris Tolson, President and CEO, N.C. Biotechnology Center
Economic Strategy 4: Build on Regional Niches...
From the Outer Banks to the Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina boasts a wide variety of geographical features and natural resources. Speakers at the forum encouraged rural residents to analyze their unique regional strengths and harness them for economic development.
“North Carolina is diverse,” said Leoneda Inge, panel moderator and changing economy reporter for WUNC. “No two places are alike, which means that no two economic strategies should be alike.”
Scott Dorney, Executive Director, N.C. Military Business Center
Mikki Sager, Vice President, The Conservation Fund
Linda Carlisle, Secretary, Department of Cultural Resources
Economic Strategy 5: Leave no stone unturned...
Valeria Lee, Rural Center board chair, encouraged rural communities to evaluate all possible opportunities so they can develop economic development strategies that build on their communities’ strengths.
“We can’t just choose agricultural processing or the arts or health care,” Lee said. “We must integrate them in a way so that we are moving on all fronts at the same time.”
Lee called on rural leaders to accept the responsibility and hard work to find solutions needed for rural communities’ most daunting economic problems.
“We have to search thoroughly and exhaustively to do everything possible to achieve the end,” Lee said. “We can’t leave any stone unturned if we’re going to make a difference in our communities.”