After graduating from NC Agricultural & Technical State University, I was fortunate to be employed by Boeing working in Seattle, Washington as a Research & Design Engineer for the Defense and Space division. My experience with a major Fortune 500 corporation provided me with a sound foundation in the basic business principles of structure, discipline, investment and profit.
In 2003, my husband and I came back home to North Carolina to raise our family, continue our careers and work to give back to our community that gave us so much growing up.
As I see North Carolina today, I see a widening contrast between our urban and rural communities. The growing success in the Piedmont should be welcomed and promoted. However, we cannot turn our backs on the rural regions hoping that the economic progress in Raleigh, Charlotte and Greensboro spread out to touch communities like Shelby, Ahoskie and Elizabethtown.
We need a Main Street Prosperity Project where strategic investments in our suburban and rural communities will allow them to provide an economic base for their residents and families.
The Main Street Prosperity Project will be a locally driven, collaborative economic development program that empowers local citizens working with every level of government, education and the private sector to focus on the key factors they need to leverage their regional assets allowing them to compete and enjoy success and promote a high quality of life.
Recently, I was reading a news article about the renewal of Oklahoma City following the tragic bomb blast there 20 years ago. The city identified dedicated revenue streams for specific capital improvement programs that was led by a diverse, citizen panel. Over the past 12 years, the city has invested more than $700 million in various quality of life projects that has enhanced their community and generated economic growth.
North Carolina needs a Main Street Prosperity Project that brings a collaborative agenda and vision for each individual community where we make strategic investment to enhance our quality of life and provide for a secure economic future.
As former Chairman of the Northampton County Board of Education, I know that the answers won’t work if they are just generated at the top levels of state government. The economic success of Main Street North Carolina will have to be a collaborative effort with local, county and state officials working together.
There are no great big policy cures that will solve the economic problems plaguing many of our rural communities overnight. However, we must work with each local community to help them take the first step to accepting the changes that are taking place and working to be successful in the 21st century economy.
For example in my State Senate district, we need to work with the telecom companies in a partnership with state, county and local governments to expand high speed internet so we can enhance educational opportunities and encourage business development. It can be done. It starts with leadership at every level to get it done.
Educational investment is another key policy area for rural North Carolina. We need to work with local school systems, especially those already identified as low-wealth schools, to ensure they have the resources and professional educators to provide every student with a first-class education that provides them the skills and tools they will need to compete in today’s global economy.
Coordinating rural economic policies with our school systems and community colleges will provide an integrated strategy when looking at growth opportunities. It is critical that we have the systems and seats in place in our community colleges that can train our workforce for jobs today and the future.
Investing in our educational infrastructure for rural communities is sound public policy because it provides a level playing field when our young people have the job-skills needed in a technology driven service economy.
Again, all the answers don’t come from Washington or Raleigh. While government has a great leadership role, each community must step up as well.
There are many challenges facing rural North Carolina. Throughout our state’s history, it’s been rural North Carolina that has provided the economic safety-belt through agriculture and textiles. Right in front of us we are witnessing a great economic transformation that will dictate a 21st century economy for North Carolina.
As leaders of this state, we must embrace the change, understand the change and work to make sure Main Street North Carolina can survive and thrive in it.
There is no silver bullet here. The Main Street Prosperity Project will be as different as the small towns that dot our roads and highways. But there is one general theme to its success – local leadership taking the first step to collaborate with government, our schools and the private sector to start the ball rolling. The success of Main Street starts right at home.
ERICA SMITH INGRAM
State Senator District 03
AUTHORIZED AND PAID FOR BY THE NC MAIN STREET DEMOCRATS PAC