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Combatting Economic Development Challenges in Rural NC Through School Construction Flexibility

Rapid technological advancements are shifting the employment landscape and economic drivers of rural North Carolina. As this occurs, it is imperative that our rural communities are cultivating world-class talent to close the growing skills gap. Unfortunately, disparities in population growth, uneven job creation and limited educational resources present rural communities with unique workforce readiness challenges. Specifically, our non-urban communities are oftentimes operating in woefully inadequate school buildings and in dire need of alternative funding mechanisms for school capital.

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. Currently, negative population growth causes sales tax revenues in most tier 1 counties to be lower, subsequently causing school capital outlay and energy costs to often exceed those counties’ ability to keep up.

After conducting a listening tour with members across North Carolina last year, the NC Chamber Foundation commissioned a rural economic development study, Spreading Economic Opportunity Across North Carolina. During this tour, business leaders outlined the greatest challenges standing in the way of our state’s future economic development, most frequently expressing concern over the growing skills gap. 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, as utilizing private companies for discounted building leases in our rural communities will give them the opportunity to cultivate top talent ready to take on the jobs of tomorrow. As legislative leaders in the Senate consider this measure, we urge them to pass the legislation.

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