North Carolina’s Secretary of Commerce Sharon Decker will be in Scotland Country next week for formal and not so formal meetings with local officials and business leaders.
She will meet with representatives from local organizations including the Scotland County Economic Development Corporation, the Laurinburg/Scotland County Area Chamber of Commerce, Laurinburg Downtown Revitalization Corporation, Scotland County Tourism Development Authority and others.
Visit organizers hope that Decker will leave Laurinburg having heard a unified vision of the county’s expectations for economic development.
But just as important is Decker’s own vision for counties like Scotland.
One thing we would like to hear is that rural North Carolina is as important as urban parts of the state. It would be nice to know that rural development will not suffer because of the growth of urban centers such as Raleigh and Charlotte.
We suspect that Decker shares that view. She already told a gathering in neighboring Robeson County last month that state officials are “aware” of the needs of rural counties and that funding will be made available for their economic development.
“Under the new system that we are proposing, rural areas will actually get more funds,” Decker said.
That is great news coming on the heels of a decision by Gov. Pat McCrory to end funding to the North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center, a non-profit that provided grants to rural counties for projects improving infrastructure, job creation and business recruitment.
The decision to end Rural Center funding was approved by the General Assembly late last month after a state audit of the non-profit raised questions about the handling of millions of dollars in taxpayers money. The audit results lead to the resignation of the organization’s longtime director.
So the state money targeted for the Rural Center and other regional development agencies will now be allocated to the Commerce Department, which is overseeing all of the state’s economic development efforts. Rural projects will now fall under the Commerce Department’s new Rural Economic Development Division. The state budget provides for $24 million over the next two years to be available through the department to the state’s most distressed counties. It also puts a cap on administrative costs at 5 percent, which would be about $1.1 million to distribute that $24 million.
We look forward to the chance to share our vision for our county with the secretary. But her vision for rural North Carolina will as eagerly anticipated.