Friday, March 28, 2014

Declining counties and booming cities

Some places in North Carolina are growing in population, but most places are not. This latest census news should be a warning to state political leaders and business people.

Population growth is confined to the major, already industrialized and well-populated counties in the Triangle, the Triad and the Charlotte area, plus coastal counties that lure retirees. The rest of the state is either losing population or is stagnant.

The result is not only crowded cities with serious congestion on highways, higher demand for municipal services and increasing housing prices, but also declining towns and small cities that struggle to keep their young people in the face of a declining tax base as housing stock ages and jobs disappear. Compound this with the decline of agriculture and the loss of local retail to the big box stores and shopping malls of nearby cities, and you can see the dilemma of small towns and poor counties.

Keeping ambitious, talented young people in smaller cities with less nightlife and fewer high-tech jobs is not easy, but state policies could help declining counties adapt before it's too late. Because representation in the General Assembly is now skewed in favor of larger cities, after decades of domination by rural districts, the legislature has less sympathy for the plight of rural areas. But unless the state can bolster the rural areas, problems in the cities will grow as rural poor people migrate to the cities for aid and services.

First of all, state industrial development policy should be tilted toward poorer counties, and these counties must be able to provide the workforce modern industry demands. That means improving K-12 education as well as community college education. Luring 100 jobs to Charlotte or Raleigh won't make a lot of difference to the local economy, but luring 100 jobs to Scotland or Tyrrell County could reshape the area. The state has to look at local impact of its decisions, and it must do more to prepare less-populated areas for the future.

Looking at the state map of population changes, I see that every N.C. county where I have called home has declined in population in the past year — Anson, Richmond and Wilson counties are slipping to one degree or another.

1 comment:

Melinda said...

So when will you announce your run for public office? We need more (or at least some) intelligent, practical & compassionate representatives.