Rural North Carolina’s Friend and Advocate: Part 3
In the last of this three-part series, Patrick Woodie, president of the N.C. Rural Center, wraps up his overview of the five priority areas identified by rural North Carolinians. He also speaks about the importance of community leaders and his hopes to continue working with Carolina Farm Credit and its many customer members who provide leadership to rural North Carolina.
Revitalize Water and Wastewater Infrastructure
Water and wastewater infrastructure is often taken for granted, until it doesn’t work.
- Most of the 420 rural small towns own a water and/or a wastewater treatment system. For the most part, much of that infrastructure was built in the 1970s or 1980s and is beyond its life expectancy.
- Much of the infrastructure in these communities was built for an economy that no longer exists.
- More than 280,000 manufacturing jobs were lost in the state between 2000 and 2008, bottoming out in 2010 and inching upward until 2018. (It is too early to tell what long-term impact, if any, the COVID pandemic will have on the state manufacturing sector moving forward.)
- With a loss of manufacturing jobs, demand for high-volume water use in many areas has decreased dramatically or disappeared altogether.
- This summer, the state Senate passed about $1.3 billion in water/wastewater and stormwater infrastructure funding, a level of investment in the state water infrastructure that hasn’t occurred since 1998.
“It is hugely significant,” says Patrick. He adds that some solutions for smaller rural communities may be regional efforts that will be more economically viable and efficient. “We’re optimistic that that amount of funding can really lead to some long-term improvements of economic health of some of our local governments.”
Advance Sustainable and Affordable Housing
Another important area is sustainable and affordable housing in communities statewide. Priorities include increasing recurring funding to the North Carolina Housing Trust Fund from its current $7 million to $15 million and building a broad coalition through critical advocates, such as the North Carolina Housing Coalition and the Metropolitan Mayors Coalition, to create a systemic policy response to make high-quality housing for everyone an economic asset for every community.
Working Together for the Greater Good
The challenges facing rural North Carolina may be large and daunting but, on a positive note, rural North Carolina has friends, advocates, and community leaders.
In talking about the 2021 Advocacy Priorities, Patrick speaks about the importance of rural leaders. “The N.C. Rural Center’s work is guided by thousands of rural community leaders across the state who help establish priorities,” says Patrick. “We take a broad view of what constitutes a rural leader and we interact with a broad array of leaders but certainly local government, both elected officials and managers of local governments, the economic development community, nonprofit leadership, the faith community, and small business owners.”
The Center also plays a role in leadership development training, in both regional and statewide trainings. “At the regional level we tend to attract a lot of people that we call new and emerging leaders who are active in their communities,” says Patrick.
Invitation to Carolina Farm Credit Members
“Carolina Farm Credit has done a tremendous job over the years of developing the leadership potential of farmers and farm families by the programs that they invest in,” he says. “It’s really complementary to the regional leadership development training that we are doing. When we come to the regions that are covered by Carolina Farm Credit, we would really like to see Farm Credit members participating in those trainings.”
Watch for information through your local media or local chambers of commerce or sign up for the N.C. Rural Center’s newsletter; find the sign-up form at the bottom of the website’s home page.
A Forecast of Hope for the Future
“It is a fascinating time that we live in but I have to say that in 30 years of doing this work I don’t think I’ve ever felt that we were at a moment such as this. If things really do align in favor of these priority issues, we are looking at a transformative moment to really do some incredible work in our rural communities,” says Patrick. “If there is a silver lining to the pandemic, I believe it has really caused individuals and families everywhere to rethink how they live their lives and to have available to them more flexible options than they have perhaps ever had. That could benefit rural communities because there are going to be families that decide that a rural lifestyle is really appealing to them if they can live there and also do the work they want to do, if they have the broadband connectivity to support that. That could be one of the real trend lines in a positive direction for rural communities that we see coming out of this pandemic.”
In Part 1 of this series, Patrick Woodie, president of the N.C. Rural Center, shared information about the Center’s work to Expand Accessible, Affordable High-Speed Broadband; in Part 2 he spoke about the work to Stabilize and Transform Rural Health and the work to Invest in Stronger Entrepreneurship and Small Business Development Systems.
By Leah Chester-Davis