Resiliency: Rural North Carolina’s Greatest Asset
NC’s rural communities are ready to address the issues facing them todayBy Patrick Woodie
If you have paid any attention to the news lately, you may be feeling less than optimistic about the future of our rural communities. The recent national coverage of our rural places has defaulted to the simplistic narrative of the rural/urban divide, which equates rural with distress and decline, and urban with prosperity and growth.
That narrative is easy to spin — and easier to sell with pictures of abandoned store fronts and dilapidated homes. But it simply does not add up to what we at the NC Rural Center see in our day-to-day work in the communities and small towns of rural North Carolina.
And it was definitely not what we heard when more than 400 rural supporters convened in Raleigh in November for the NC Rural Center’s 2017 Rural Assembly.
We heard from communities charting their own course for the future, creating opportunities when no one else thought it was possible. We heard stories of places transforming their economies and communities in ways that are both unique and remarkable, but — most importantly — doable.
The common denominator: strong and effective local leadership. Kinston Mayor B.J. Murphy shared the story of his community’s creative use of local assets and talents to reinvent itself as a nationally recognized artisan food destination, anchored by the entrepreneurial drive of Lenoir County-native and celebrity chef Vivian Howard.
Kinston’s story is that of individuals investing in a community. It is a story of a love for a place. It is a story of resiliency.
Resiliency: perhaps our rural places’ greatest asset.
We heard many examples of rural resiliency, like the innovative effort in McDowell County to improve health outcomes in low-income communities by educating residents on good nutrition and healthy eating habits. The initiative is empowering residents to make a change that can have profound effects on reducing chronic diseases.
Person County recognized that broadband access was critical for the county’s future and took the initiative to leverage county assets to cut in half the number of homes lacking high-speed internet access, allocating $4 million over four years to build out the county’s last-mile infrastructure.
Brunswick County launched the “Brunswick Guarantee,” which provides local high school students the opportunity to continue their education at the local community college without going into debt.
As we enter 2018, there are two things we know: rural North Carolinians are not unfamiliar with hard work, and there’s nothing wrong with rural North Carolina that can’t be solved by rural North Carolinians.
Rural communities are ready to solve the problems facing them today, just as they have overcome challenges in the past. The Rural Center is ready to join these communities and their advocates, including North Carolina’s electric cooperatives, to address issues such as inadequate high-speed broadband coverage, limited access to quality health care, and the need to grow and sustain successful local small businesses and entrepreneurs.
As we move into the New Year, let’s remember the words of Kelly Ryan, CEO of the Wisconsin-based community foundation Incourage, who spoke at the Rural Assembly:
“Don’t let other people save rural. I believe rural will save the nation.”
We think so, too.
About the AuthorPatrick Woodie is president of the NC Rural Center (ncruralcenter.org), the nonprofit organization with a mission to develop, promote and implement sound economic strategies to improve the quality of life of rural North Carolinians.