Our guest blogger is Michael A. Cooper, Jr., a contributing writer for Campus Progress, Creative Loafing Charlotte, The Record of Wilkes Newspaper, and Charlotte Magazine. He is a recent graduate of the Charlotte School of Law, and was a 2009 New Leaders Fellow at the Center for Progressive Leadership. He was born and raised in North Wilkesboro, N.C.
This week, the North Carolina State Senate took a huge step towards consolidating economic development power at the North Carolina Department of Commerce, draining resources and state funding from four regional partnerships.
This move came at the heels of Governor McCrory’s similar proposal to create “The Partnership for Prosperity,” to privatize many of the job recruitment functions of the Commerce Department, and centralize them in a new economic development corporation. According to the Governor, this will cut down on costs and “duplicate efforts.”
The problem however, is that there ought to be duplicate efforts. There are currently 552 municipalities spread out across North Carolina’s 100 counties, each with their own needs, and their own struggles.
And what focusing the economic development energy of this state into one organization will really lead to is an arbitrary and random recovery based more on luck that real solutions.
I somehow doubt that it will become a priority of the new governor, or the general assembly to solve the unemployment rate, or drastic poverty levels in my home county of Wilkes. And this new Partnership for Prosperity won’t recruit businesses for everybody; so someone’s going to get left out.
Of course, those regional partnerships weren’t doing much either. And that’s because top-down economic development efforts to lure outside businesses will never address the structural problems throughout rural North Carolina, and America’s heartland, that brought on this crisis.
The real solution, is for local citizens, and municipal leaders to accept their roles and responsibilities in recovery, instead of waiting for state government or big business to bring jobs to them.
This can be done through reinvigorating downtowns with innovative programs like cash mobs, a united coalition of service projects spearheaded by the fellowship of church communities, and comprehensive buy-local campaigns that incentivize circulating money throughout the community.
In every town, a partnership of business and community leaders could pinpoint abandoned or rundown buildings, acquire and refurbish them, and subsidize their stability and rent them at low-rates to selected businesses the town both wants, and needs.
And the unemployed of every community should be encouraged to meet together to brainstorm for solutions. Instead of a handful of people at an EDC working to find jobs for thousands of people, wouldn’t it be easier for those thousands to look together? Or create co-ops?
This localized approach would better fit North Carolina’s history of conservative, anti-government, anti-tax, anti-labor politics, even from Democrats.
And in a state so currently divided, it could be a means for compromise: Republicans say they want small government, and Democrats say they want to fight poverty, wouldn’t strong local action please both?
They would do well to realize that the Republican takeover of North Carolina didn’t happen overnight, or simply because Art Pope is rich, but rather through decades of work building the party’s talent pool on town-councils and in sheriff’s departments.
Throughout the state, many of our mayors and local elected officials are older machine pols, devoid of ideas, or the capacity for leadership necessary to meet the challenges of today.
Instead of holding up protest placards, or waiting for 2014, state Democrats would be smart if they recruited hundreds of young candidates to run for municipal office on a local anti-poverty agenda, tailored to each individual town.
This is after all, an election year.