In the late 1970s, I was appointed to the Economic Development Board. At the time I lived in Northeastern North Carolina and believed rural areas deserved to get their share of the economic growth and prosperity locating in more urban areas.
I was convinced the main problem was that our economic developers just weren’t doing enough to sell prospects on locating in rural areas. After every new economic development announcement I would vigorously question Commerce Secretary Lauch Faircloth and his team of economic developers as to why these projects didn’t select a rural site, constantly touting the wonderful lifestyle, lower property taxes and land prices and lack of congestion. Finally, exasperated with my constant harangues, Faircloth, in his classic fashion, told me the best economic developers in the world couldn’t convince industries to select areas where they didn’t want to locate.
What sounded like a cop-out at the time gradually grew into a reality I had to accept. In far too many cases rural sections didn’t have a sufficiently trained workforce and lacked needed infrastructure like natural gas, major transportation arteries, and water and sewer capacity. Cultural amenities were often sparse and healthcare and public education were generally not as good as often found in more urban areas.
Since 1992, North Carolina has been forced by competition from other states to get into the high-stakes game of offering economic incentives, a need exacerbated when the few industrial plants located in rural communities – mostly textiles and a smattering of manufacturing facilities – closed, either relocating…
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