Decker visits, offers encouragement
WARRENTON — Speaking to various leaders of Vance and Warren counties, Sharon Decker answered questions and offered encouragement here Wednesday afternoon.
North Carolina’s secretary of commerce praised forward thinking in Triangle North, outlined her department’s responsibilities in state government and pointed to rural areas in the ways the state will grow and improve.
“You’ve been creative in how you’ve come together,” Decker said, citing Triangle North as an example of the joint effort.
Saying that North Carolina is one of only 10 states that has net growth from in-migration, she said, “Our job growth is not keeping up with migration.”
She listed five tenets of the economic development initiative of the Department of Commerce: health, education, economic development, art, tourism and culture, and quality of life and the environment.
“If we’re to be a healthy economy, we must be a healthy people,” she said.
She acknowledged the particular issues of rural areas that do not have medical facilities.
At one time, young people were advised not to return to the mill or the farm, Decker said.
“We’ve got to rebuild these sectors of our economy,” she said.
Decker pointed out the role of community colleges in that effort. She said a graduate of a community college may not get a degree but a certificate and “multiple certificates over a lifetime.”
Referring again to Triangle North, Decker said when a business is seeking to relocate, having a site-ready industrial park is a great advantage. Noting that it has been done locally, she asked, “How can we help?”
“Tourism is the only industry in North Carolina that grew in every county,” Decker said.
She pointed out that Warren and Vance counties have parks, lakes and historic downtowns to attract tourists.
Commenting on the quality of life, she said, “The greatest asset to people coming here is who you are as a people.”
Decker said Gov. Pat McCrory gave her two assignments: to grow the economy and preserve the environment.
“They’re not mutually exclusive,” she said. “We’ve got to figure this out together.”
In a period set aside for responses from local officials, several expressed concern that functions of the N.C. Rural Center are being assumed by the Department of Commerce. Gabriel Cumming, consultant for the Warren County Economic Development Commission, asked how the state will serve rural areas after the change.
Warrenton Mayor Walter Gardner said, “We were very disappointed when two vital applications for upcoming projects were dismissed a the closing of the Rural Center.”
Decker responded that the Rural Center will still exist, but its focus will be on capacity building. Projects approved but not funded will come through, she said. “We’re going to work through it and get it working again,” she said.
Cumming named other local needs, including assistance preparing Triangle North for occupancy, marketing of rural counties, support for non-profit organizations as well as businesses, continuing support for the Main Street program and developing a closer relationship between education and economic development.
Vance County Commissioner Terry Garrison suggested the state use Triangle North as a model. Among the area’s assets, he said, “We have water.”
Ray Griffin, the city manager in Henderson, added the water commission is seeking to expand its capacity but the permit process has delayed the process.
Mike Inscoe, a city councilman from Henderson, said utility rates put Henderson at a disadvantage when competing with other areas for industries that require much energy.
In summarizing her department’s efforts, Decker said, “Economic development is a local effort. You know the nature of this community.”
The state’s role, she said, is to provide support.
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