"The state faces not only the immediate flood-and-fire crises, but also the long-running 'crises' facing rural communities," Guillory writes. "A pair of Census findings suggests the scope of the challenge: The state’s top 10 cities captured half of North Carolina’s population growth between 2010 and 2015. In the same period, 47 out of the state’s 100 counties had net out-migration; that is, more people moved out than moved in."
"Aside from wind, water, and fire, powerful forces of demography, globalization, and technology have buffeted many of the state’s rural towns and counties," he writes. "The Great Recession dealt a blow to already fragile communities. Some places, situated along four-lane highways or near assets of nature, may prove resilient. Still, when so much manufacturing and warehousing has become automated, even a successfully aggressive business recruitment strategy may not produce enough jobs to distribute throughout distressed rural communities."
Guillory suggests that North Carolina needs a "re-thinking of its economic-development strategy and tactics," that it "should think more in terms of bolstering regional hubs—such as Greenville and Asheville—and connect rural people to their job growth," and that "in some places, the best the state can do perhaps is to manage decline to minimize human hurt." One key is increasing public education opportunities in rural areas, he writes. "To be sure, a strong education inevitably will result in many young people moving away … and then maybe moving back. Education gives them greater capacity for work, for civic participation, for upward mobility."
Guillory is an academic partner of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which publishes The Rural Blog, and a former political reporter, editorial page editor and columnist for the Raleigh News & Observer.