Local News

Next Governor Faces Challenge of Helping Rural N.C. Grow

Posted March 30, 2000 6:00 a.m. EST

— Warren County suffered a big economic setback Friday.CVS Pharmacycanceled plans to build a new distribution center. The deal would have created 650 jobs in an area that desperately needs them.

Finding ways to help rural North Carolina grow is a big issue in this year's race for governor -- the challenge of trying to spread the wealth of the state's booming economy.

Money cannot change hands fast enough in North Carolina's Research Triangle area. But just an hour away, it is a different story.

Traditional industries like manufacturing and tobacco are disappearing and very little has come to replace them.

For example, a Warren County apparel plant closes. The former manager buys the business, but only a fraction of the original employees remain.

"In the last 10 years I have closed about three plants myself," says Buster McDade, owner of McDade's Apparel. "This whole area has been depressed for the last five or ten years."

Just down the road at the Fleming farm, tobacco seedlings are growing, but the family business is not.

"As far as other opportunities in this area, they are slim to none. The plants, the textile industry, has been going down just like everything else, and that's about the only thing that's around here," says tobacco farmer Johnny Fleming.

The challenge is to help people make the transition out of traditional industries. That challenge is proving difficult.

"I've been here almost 25 years, and ever since I've been here we've been talking about balancing the growth the state has, trying to move more jobs into rural areas. It just hasn't worked yet," says economist Mike Walden.

Community colleges bring the job retraining that is needed. But Warren County's economic developer says more needs to be done.

"You're looking for them to have more space to do training like metal fabricators and welders, and some of those things that we think about as being really basic skills," says Allen Kimball, of Warren County Economic Development.

New jobs will not come to Warren County without new technology. The area lacks that. High-speed Internet access costs 10 times more here than it does in urban areas.

"For those companies that need this fast Internet capability, this fast connectivity, we don't even get a chance to talk to them," says Kimball.

Until more new business comes to distressed areas, a significant part of North Carolina's economy hangs on by a thread.

You can read more about where the candidates stand on the economy in the "Your Voice, Your Vote" section of Sunday'sNews and Observer.