Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards turned the phrase as he campaigned as the Democratic vice presidential candidate in 2004: There were “two Americas,” Edwards said, and the meaning was basically focusing on the divide between those with means and hope and those without either.
Today, the term might be altered to “two North Carolinas” and it would be the differences between urban areas of the state, or resort communities, and rural counties where population is declining along with job prospects.
The conclusion is spotlighted by new figures from the U.S. Census Bureau showing the Raleigh-Cary metro area is the fastest growing in North Carolina and the 14th fastest growing in the United States. The area is defined as Wake, Johnson and Franklin counties, and grew 2.5 percent in the measuring year that ended June 30. And this is without counting Durham, which is in a metro area with Chapel Hill. That area grew 1.5 percent.
This is mostly good news for these urban areas, where jobs seem to be in abundance, universities are booming, infrastructures are sound and elected officials seem pretty enlightened. For Raleigh-Cary-Durham-Chapel Hill the challenges are to maintain transportation and boost transit options with things such as light rail and commuter rail, and to strive for more affordable housing so that working folks in law enforcement, teaching and service jobs can afford to live in the communities that employ them. Raleigh has an ongoing study on that subject, but it’s getting to be more than a little challenge.
That said, it’s a considerably less complicated and traumatic challenge than that faced by rural areas, and state lawmakers — particularly the Republicans in charge who vowed upon taking over more than five years ago to create an economic boom — must concentrate on drawing businesses to less-populated areas. Absent a successful effort, those areas are going to be even less populous. The crisis of diminishing population and a lack of new jobs seems most acute in the northeastern part of the state.
GOP legislative leaders claim to be the efficient, pro-business job creators. Fine. Let’s see it. Because so far, Republican leaders have neglected economic development in favor of ideological battles over an unconstitutional marriage amendment, putting the fix in on legislative and congressional electoral districts and the tortuous battle over HB2, the bathroom bill most North Carolinians likely wish they’d never heard of.
And so from Jones Street let’s see: job initiatives through state-assisted, locally-led recruiting for small and medium-sized businesses; bolstering of community colleges with a focus on more training for job skills and four-year college prep; investment in established local businesses that would like to expand but don’t know how to grow and need extra resources; and a new, strong focus on practical local business ideas without the distracting ideological battles at the General Assembly.