LAURINBURG — Nearly 40 area business, education and community leaders got an early start to their day Friday when they attended the annual Legislative Update at the Scotland County Emergency Operations Center, a breakfast event sponsored by the Laurinburg/Scotland County Area Chamber of Commerce.
Those in attendance heard from seven-term N.C. Rep. Garland Pierce (Dist. 48), two-term N.C. Sen. Tom McInnis (Dist. 25) and James Estes, the regional representative of U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis.
“Legislators have had a busy session in Raleigh and there are a lot of issues coming up on the (Nov. 6) ballot for voters,” said Chris English, executive director of the Chamber, “so this is an opportunity for people here to get information about those things and be able to ask questions.”
Each of the legislators were given about 15 minutes to talk about issues important to them for not only Scotland County, but the region and state as a whole. Many of those issues overlapped.
Pierce, who is a resident and pastor in Laurinburg, told the crowd things have been hectic in Raleigh.
“There’s a lot going on in North Carolina,” he said. “But at the end of the day, we’re all interested in what Raleigh is doing for our state and Scotland County.”
He gave the General Assembly kudos for what it’s done recently “to strengthen education,” and said he feels confident that trend will continue.
Pierce then spoke about an issue that has been a priority.
“Once big concern for me is Medicaid expansion,” he said. “We need to consider that seriously because a lot of rural hospitals are closing — and we need to continue advocating Medicaid expansion because it will help our overall health, as well as help with bringing jobs and give us a boost in our economy.”
Other areas of importance shared by Pierce included the need for the expansion of broad-band access to rural areas, a growing need to improve the workforce training and a positive push for a local recreation facility that “will be a tremendous asset that we should all get behind.”
“We need to start working together … coming together on positive projects like that for the overall good of Scotland County,” he added. “We just can’t afford to keep being negative.”
McInnis agreed with many of the issues and concerns raised by Pierce, but said one of his biggest concerns centers around the opioid crisis.
“This continues to frustrate us (in Raleigh) because we’ve been doing everything we can to get a handle on it,” McInnis said. “But it continues to hamper our ability to do a lot of things in the state — so we need to keep fighting.”
He also talked about the “frivolous” lawsuits against the hog industry.
“I call it the BBQ industry, because it’s the part I like best,” McInnis said. “The ag industry is an $84 billion industry in North Carolina … the largest in the state, and we won’t turn our backs on our farmers.
“Probably 95 percent of the residents in these lawsuits moved into an agricultural area after the hog farms were established,” he added. “Listen, we’re an agricultural state, so when you choose to build a home near a far, there’s a good chance there will be … farm smells. If you want to avoid that, build someplace else.”
McInnis also spoke to the crowd about the General Assembly’s “Build NC” program that would funnel up to $300 million per year into transportation needs — including the upgrade of U.S. 74 to Interstate 74 status from Wilmington, through Scotland County and to Charlotte.
He finished up talking about the 58-campus community college system, saying it is “the best system on the planet,” and an effort to create a Foreign Free-Trade Zone at the Laurinburg-Maxton Airport.
Estes spend a few moments talking about what Tillis lists as the three economy drivers in the state: banking, military and agriculture. He also told the crowd that unemployment in many areas was at an all-time low, but that workforce development and the community college system were keys to that trend continuing.
“Sen. Tillis thinks North Carolina is primed for success,” Estes said. “One of Congress’ recent bills to pass included a proposal by Sen. Tillis for $240 million to be used for military construction.
“He is also continuing to work had on securing our southern borders, giving immigrants a pathway to citizenship, fighting the opioid crisis and VA reform for our veterans,” he added.
During the question and answer session, several questions were posed that centered around Medicaid, workforce training at Richmond Community College, local infrastructure, agriculture and jobs in general.
During that session, McInnis announced that Scotland County would see a satellite campus of RichmondCC established by next fall, adding that “there will still need be funding from the General Assembly for that to happen.”
W. Curt Vincent can be reached at 910-506-3023 or [email protected]