The following content provided courtesy of the NC Rural Center
If you are one of North Carolina’s many newcomers who moved here over the past decade, it is understandable you might have a somewhat skewed view of our state. It is likely you moved here and settled in one of our state’s thriving metros or surrounding suburbs. And that is not a bad thing. The explosion of our metropolitan areas over the past 25 years has brought an unprecedented level of economic growth to our state.
But starting with the Great Recession and culminating in the 2016 Presidential election, it became apparent that our state’s economic advances had been uneven and with diminishing returns as the economic boom radiated out from our core metro communities.
If you have read the news since November, you are probably aware of the renewed focus on rural communities. We have seen increased public interest in both our rural communities and the views of the people who call those places home. Unfortunately, too much of that coverage has been framed as an “us vs. them” cultural and economic split and too easily reduced to the “rural/urban divide” tag that pits our towns against our cities in a zero-sum game of competitive economic development.
At the Rural Center, we see daily that there is far more that unites us than divides us. We know we can lift up rural communities without pulling down urban areas. Commuter flows from the rural counties surrounding our state’s metros tell the real story: Our economies are regional, an interconnected web of life and work that can happen counties apart.
It’s simple – the best economic development solutions for North Carolina are rural solutions. Why? Eighty-four percent of the landmass of North Carolina is considered rural by the Rural Center’s definition of 250 people or fewer per square mile. Forty-three percent of our state’s population lives in a rural area. When we think about how to educate our children, feed our families, create new jobs, or connect ourselves to the world via roads and broadband, we have to develop strategies that account for rural as well as urban needs.
We need to remember that what makes this state great, what makes it a place people want to move to and build a life, is not just those metro jobs and the urban amenities. It is the beautiful and abundant natural features of our mountains and our coasts. It is the easily accessible recreation those places offer. It is the abundant agricultural economy and access to fresh foods built on the hard work of our farmers and farm families. And increasingly, it is the sustainable energy being produced in our rural areas to power the knowledge-driven economy of urban North Carolina.
We at the Rural Center think it is time to change the conversation by highlighting the ways our urban and rural areas work together to make North Carolina great. We think it is time to celebrate our rural people and places, and move beyond the “rural-urban divide” and start talking instead about the innovative economic development strategies that can drive us all forward. That is why the Rural Center is hosting the first-ever statewide Rural Day on Tuesday, May 9. The full day-and-a-half of events will feature remarkable stories of resiliency and growth in our rural communities, visions for rural North Carolina from our state’s top leaders, and multiple chances for rural champions from across the state to network with each other and communicate to their representatives how they can support the further development of rural North Carolina.
Confirmed speakers for Rural Day include:
- Roy Cooper, Governor of North Carolina
- Dan Forest, Lieutenant Governor of North Carolina (by video message)
- Phil Berger, President Pro Tempore, North Carolina Senate
- Tim Moore, Speaker, North Carolina House of Representatives
- Steve Troxler, North Carolina Agriculture Commissioner
- Jim Trogdon, Secretary, NC Department of Transportation
- Michael Regan, Secretary, NC Department of Environmental Quality
- Harry Brown, NC Senate
- Don Davis, NC Senate
- John Szoka, NC House of Representatives
Register now to help us put rural North Carolina’s best foot forward. Events include a morning Convocation featuring speeches from state and local leaders, smaller “in conversation” sessions with top executive leaders, a Rural Fair showcasing organizations across the state working with rural communities, a chance to meet with your state representatives, and an afternoon reception at the Governor’s Mansion to cap off a full day.
And, come early for a special event on Monday, May 8, at the Rural Center!
Reel Rural: Documenting Rural Life, will bring to town filmmakers who recently produced documentaries about communities in rural North Carolina. Join us for a “meet and greet” reception with the filmmakers, watch clips from their films, and stay for a discussion about how to tell the stories of our rural communities in creative and engaging ways.
Rural North Carolina’s time is now. We hope you will join us on May 8-9 to make the most of this historic moment.