Billy Ray Hall: Rural Center making economic difference in communities

June 17, 2013 

Rural Center making difference in communities

We are deeply disturbed about articles this weekend in The News & Observer that have painted a partial and inaccurate picture of the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center and its work on behalf of rural communities in North Carolina.

The center has led public policy initiatives, trained local leaders and in other ways helped build the capacity of our communities to answer their challenges. It has awarded 5,000 grants totaling over $680 million since 1987. Nearly two-thirds of this funding has helped communities solve serious health and environmental issues through water and sewer improvements.

The articles focus on two rural, job-generating grant programs – the Economic Infrastructure Program that supports water, sewer and other “backbone” infrastructure; and the Building Reuse and Restoration Grants Program that restores vacant buildings to productive business use. The center modeled its programs on existing state programs, both in terms of repayment, or clawback, provisions and reporting procedures. The North Carolina model meets accountability standards set by Good Jobs First, a national watchdog group that takes a cautious view of incentives.

Three out of every four grant dollars from the economic infrastructure and building reuse programs have supported private sector jobs in manufacturing, processing and health care – jobs that provide competitive wages and benefits. The N&O articles focus on restaurants and retail projects, which account for only 12 percent of funding.

The Rural Center does not seek to dictate to rural North Carolinians what they should and should not choose for economic development.

Projects are developed by community leaders; approved by town councils and county boards of commissioners; and submitted by units of local government. Both programs require that local governments match Rural Center grants dollar for dollar with other funds. The Rural Center has never “built” a Walmart or any other business.

By focusing on a handful of projects, the articles leave the mistaken impression that job numbers have fallen short in the programs. The fact is that of 274 grant projects that have been fully completed, 30 percent more jobs were created than required under the terms of the grant contracts. In absolute numbers, the applications projected the creation of 9,900 jobs. The businesses created 13,144 jobs.

“Spending in the shadows” was a poetic title, but we’re mystified as to its use in The N&O articles. The center has an extensive review, approval and monitoring process, and makes a full reporting to the General Assembly on all grants.

We have the utmost confidence in the integrity of the Rural Center’s economic development initiatives and welcome any questions about the center’s grant-making processes.

Billy Ray Hall

Rural Center President

The letter was also signed by Rural Center board members Brian Crutchfield and Bill Gibson.

The length limit was waived to allow a response to the news story.

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