With small towns and rural areas lagging behind their urban counterparts in terms of economic growth, N.C. State University economist Mike Walden outlines strategies that could be used to improve rural and small town prospects in North Carolina.
“I’ve argued that this is probably our biggest economic challenge in North Carolina. Urban areas have actually been doing well – growing. Rural and small town areas, not so much.
“I think there (are) several strategies we can look at. One is simply to link those urban areas, those growing urban areas, to nearby rural areas – link them in terms of transportation, whether that be surface transportation or actually virtual transportation.
“One reason why a company, let’s say, who wanted to be in the Triangle area and access other Triangle companies, yet (a reason) they would want to perhaps locate in a surrounding rural county is cheaper land. So, if we can make their accessibility greater, they may end up locating in that rural county (but) still interacting with the urban areas.
“Second economic development tool is retirees, bringing retirees from the north (and) the midwest to our beautiful rural and small town areas, bringing their pensions, bringing their Social Security.
“Agriculture clearly is on the upswing. We have a growing world … demand for food products – the kind that we can deliver. So I think agriculture and growing agriculture can be a source of improvement in rural areas.
“Interstates: We have two interstates that either need to be improved or need to be built, and if they are improved and built, they can really help rural areas – I-95, and I-73, both of them cutting through rural areas. We need to focus on those; see what can be done.
“And then lastly, the Panama Canal: The expansion of the Panama Canal is going to bring a lot of new freight to the east coast that can run up our state to warehouses, delivery places. That can be a generator of economic growth in rural and small towns.”