Home Opinion Celebrate Rural Day in the Tar Heel State

Celebrate Rural Day in the Tar Heel State

What comes to mind when you hear the word “rural?”

For some, the word evokes images of pastoral landscapes and rustic barns, the smells of home cooking and curing tobacco, the sounds of lapping waves and square dance callers.

For others, the idea of rural is dominated by (often inaccurate) ideas of homogeneous cultures, insular thinking, and stubborn competition with an urban world of unceasing “progress.”

For us at the N.C. Rural Center, the word “rural” calls to mind something different: it is visions of vibrant small towns, led by driven business owners who invest in their local economies. It is mountaintops with high-speed internet connectivity. It is innovative health care facilities, bringing state-of-the-art technology and top-of-the-field service providers to underserved areas.

But while these visions are realities in many of our rural communities, they are still elusive dreams for others. Regardless of where we live in rural North Carolina, we must work closely together to lift up the success stories we see, figure out how to replicate and scale those successes, and then empower our leaders to make innovation a quality of every rural community in North Carolina.

The changing demographics of our state make such rural cooperation imperative. For example, the 19 counties in the northeastern corner of our state are represented by 17 members of the General Assembly. Mecklenburg County alone has the same number of representatives — and this distribution will only become more pronounced after the 2020 census. We want to emphasize that population growth in our urban areas is not a bad thing. It is wonderful that people from around the world want to call North Carolina home. What this does mean, though, is that rural people must now speak with a united voice as never before if we are to call attention to the policy issues that matter most to us and our communities.

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On March 26, more than 600 rural advocates from more than 80 counties will convene in Raleigh for our third-annual Rural Day, our chance to speak together to our state leaders with a unified rural voice. We will hear from former Ohio Gov. John Kaisch on how his state expanded health coverage for more of its citizens and stemmed a vexing statewide opioid crisis. We will also hear from Gov. Roy Cooper, Sen. Phil Berger, and House Speaker Tim Moore about their visions for the future of rural North Carolina.

The big issues we will talk about in Raleigh — broadband, health, and small business development — are not just rural issues, they are North Carolina issues. They are great challenges, but no greater than we have faced before. The way we address these issues in our communities is a wonderful opportunity to show this state that rural people are entrepreneurial. We are innovative. And we are committed to each other and our future. With those values, and our rural resolve, there is no problem we cannot face…together.

 

Patrick Woodie is president of the N.C. Rural Center.