Economic development begins at the community level. Bringing together residents, business leaders, financial partners and local governments to provide solutions to community-specific challenges promotes economic recovery and improves the quality of life for all residents.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke understands this. At a recent research conference in Washington, he encouraged holistic, community-specific development strategies. Local leadership, he said, is essential.
Gov. Pat McCrory, however, doesnt get it. The governors proposed budget eliminates funding for nonprofit organizations that lead economic development in communities across the state.
So what does cutting funding to nonprofits like the N.C. Association of Community Development Corporations , N.C. Community Development Initiative and N.C. Rural Economic Development Center mean to communities in North Carolina? It means the potential loss of development opportunities like Eagle Market Place in a low-wealth neighborhood in downtown Asheville.
This $11 million multi-use development project includes work force rental housing, commercial office and retail space. Economic-development nonprofit organizations commissioned the research on the need for affordable housing for Ashevilles essential workers such as nurses and fire fighters, advocated zoning changes and brought a variety of local partners to the table including large employers, the City of Asheville, the N.C. Housing Finance Agency and TD Bank. The result is a development that saves essential workers the time and expense of a long commute, provides opportunity for small business owners and brings new investment to a section of the city in need of revitalization.
Bernankes remarks are a welcome validation for those of us who have worked in economic development for decades. We know that comprehensive community-based approaches lead to economic recovery and create resilient communities for the long term.
We know because nonprofits dedicated to this work in North Carolina have leveraged resources to secure more than $1.5 billion in investments and helped create or retain 25,000 jobs since the Great Recession began in 2007.
We know because bipartisan legislators have consistently funded this important work for a quarter century.
We know because North Carolina serves as a national model for our public-private partnerships and our infrastructure of community-based economic development organizations.
We know because as Bernanke reminds us, progress will require multi-pronged approaches that address housing, education, jobs and quality-of-life issues in a coherent, mutually consistent way.
At a time when our state has the fifth-highest unemployment rate in the country and we are still struggling in the aftermath of the Great Recession, we need more, not less, investment in the economic development organizations with a proven track record of success in local communities across North Carolina.
Susan Perry Cole is president and CEO of the N.C. Association of Community Development Corporations.