Sampson business, government and education leaders were awakened to how the state is working for them, and with them, to make North Carolina and the county a better place to recruit industry, train its workforce, retain its citizens and attract both young and old into its fold.
Leading the discussion was N.C. Secretary of Commerce Sharon Decker who delivered an upbeat message to the gathered group, telling them that she’s seeing a positive turn across the state.
Offering her thanks to Sampson Sen. Brent Jackson, who was in attendance at Friday’s “Wake Up in Sampson” economic breakfast, Decker talked about how he, Gov. Pat McCrory and other legislative leaders were working, little by little, to make progress in cutting taxes, providing quality health care and supporting the educational needs that “can only make us all stronger.”
“Let me tell you some of the things we’re seeing,” Decker attested in front of the group of some 50-60 people. “There have been 20,000 jobs created; our unemployment rate is dropping, and for the first time in eight years it is lower than the national average; and we are moving to the front line in recruiting industry.”
All those, she said, point to improving times for North Carolina.
She stressed five things that were invaluable to North Carolina’s continued healthy forecast, starting with what she termed No. 1 — health. “We want to see every North Carolinian have the opportunity to have a healthy life.” To that end, she talked about the state’s foundation in agriculture and how that very base should be the catalyst to ensure people are receiving “healthy, clean food.”
“With North Carolina’s ability to grow its own food, we should be able to provide the things people need in terms of nutrition. And with the farm-to-table initiative, we are in an even better position…”
She touched briefly on rural health care and stressed that the objective was for everyone to have access to health care.
“One of the things we can give employers in this state is good, healthy employees, prepared and ready to go to work.”
There are challenges, she acknowledged, including the fact that the state ranks in the Top 10 for high blood pressure, childhood obesity, high cholesterol and heart disease.
“But we have the tools to make a dent in our challenges,” the Secretary emphasized.
Second on her list was education. “There is nothing more singularly important than having an educated workforce,” Decker said. “Because of that understanding, the governor and the legislators have committed themselves to working toward better teacher pay to keep good teachers and to attract the most talented into our school systems.”
Young people, she said, were needed in advanced manufacturing, agri-business and technology. “We want to get young people excited about technology, science, agriculture.”
She touted the North Carolina Community College System for its work across the state in training and retraining individuals, preparing them to go to work ready for the jobs at hand.
“We have the best ag training and research around, in our community colleges, in our universities and in our high schools. North Carolina can be a leader in agriculture in even more significant ways than it already is.”
Third on her list was economic development. “Significant industry and small, we want to be there to assist them all in recruiting and helping those already in business, making it more viable to do business here.”
She stressed how state government was looking at ways to make it easier, for example, for businesses to export what they make. Currently, she said, less than 20 percent of businesses export what they make, a number she believes needs to grow.
Then she turned to No. 4, arts, tourism and culture, a $20 billion business in the state, and the only one that she said she could point to that saw growth in every single county in NC last year.
“Even coming out of the dark recession, there was growth. Folks love coming to our state. It’s something we sometimes forget because we are here.”
And then she pointed to the quality of life and the environment, the fifth on her list.
“There’s one constant you hear when you ask folks who’ve moved here about what they like about our state. They’ll tell you it’s the community feel, the volunteerism, the friendliness.
“We need to continue to focus on these things, the health of our world community, our diverse community, and making it a desirable place to live and work.”
She stressed that particularly with economic development, it all started at the local level. The state was there to help, she said, but “what you do locally — the risk-taking, the partnerships — that’s what makes the most difference.”