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Improving Economic Development in Rural NC

Last year, the NC Chamber Foundation commissioned a rural economic development study after conducting a listening tour with members across North Carolina. During this tour, business leaders outlined the greatest challenges standing in the way of our state’s future economic development. Spreading Economic Opportunity Across North Carolina recommends a number of policies – both for the legislature to enact but also for the private sector to lead via the NC Chamber Foundation – to improve economic development in North Carolina’s rural communities.

Throughout the listening tour, employers most frequently expressed concern over the growing skills gap. As rapidly changing technology shifts the employment landscape and economic drivers of rural North Carolina, cultivating the top talent necessary to close that gap is especially important. However, rural communities experience unique challenges in preparing their workforce, from disparities in population growth to uneven job creation to limited educational resources. Specifically, our non-urban communities are oftentimes operating in woefully inadequate school buildings and in dire need of alternative funding mechanisms for school capital.

In most of our Tier 1 counties sales tax revenues are lower due to negative population growth and therefore school capital outlay and energy costs often exceed the ability of counties to keep up.

House Bill 600/Senate Bill 511: School Construction Flexibility proposes a solution to this growing problem through the public private partnership model. House Bill 600 and Senate Bill 511 allow Tier 1 counties, the areas in most need, to use funds saved through school consolidation to pay for a new or renovated building’s lease. In leasing new school construction from private companies, counties could save as much as 60% of the traditional cost of building and maintaining a school building, thereby protecting classroom teachers and teaching assistant funding.

North Carolina must move forward with innovative approaches to solving our workforce challenges. This is increasingly true as automation and globalization transform industries across the state. School Construction Flexibility is a step in the right direction in utilizing private companies for discounted building leases in our rural communities. We urge the support of this legislation.

Gary J. Salamido
Vice President, Government Affairs
North Carolina Chamber