Catawba County

Catawba County

Moderated by UNC-TV's Director of Production, Shannon Vickery, this event features an interactive dialogue among expert panelists, representing local leadership in education, policy and industry, and viewers like you. Participating experts include: H. DeWitt (Dee) Blackwell, Jr., Executive Director, Western Piedmont Council of Goverments; Mike Dugan, Chair, Charles M. Snipes School of Business at Lenoir-Rhyne University and author of The Furniture Wars, How America Lost a $50 Billion Industry; Lew Ebert, President and CEO, North Carolina Chamber of Commerce; Anita Brown Graham, Director, Emerging Issues Institute; and Dr. Garrett Hinshaw, President, Catawba Valley Community College. Topics for discussion include the future of the area's manufacturing and furniture industries, and recent regional challenges and opportunities.

Meeting Summarycatawba

At the Arts & Science Center Auditorium on the SALT Block in Catawba County, community member, NC Rising Catawba Valley Town Hall Meetingleaders, and an expert panel of guests gathered to talk about the economic outlook of the Piedmont region of North Carolina. With the furniture and textile industry is struggling, unemployment rates rising, leaders and citizens in conflict, and local businesses in need of more support from the community, UNCTV provides the community a forum to discuss challenges and possible solutions.

The discussion began with manufacturing. Blackwell noted the rapid changes that have occurred in the manufacturing industry in North Carolina, and the state, especially the Piedmont region, has been struggling to transition to other industries. The furniture industry has been greatly affected by foreign trade agreements which resulted in many factories and plants closing, business that will not return to the area. Ebert emphasized that "what North Carolina makes, makes North Carolina." NC is still a major manufacturer, the 7th largest in the country with 24,000 companies and an $83 billion impact on the national economy. While things will change overtime, there are and will be opportunities for high-skill, high-pay jobs. He strongly believes that when it comes to manufacturing, NC is fairing better than most states.

NC Rising Catawba Valley Town Hall MeetingIn order to support those potential high-skill, high-paying jobs, organizations in NC are launching initiatives to provide education opportunities. According to Hinshaw, community colleges in NC are gaining a diverse student base. The challenge, he says, is what program changes to they have to make to benefit students most right now. Graham asked similar questions: how do we hold onto industries and prepare for more? How do we invest in people so they can create new opportunities for themselves and participate in existing ones? Ebert believes that North Carolina is "investing in people's intelligence," in order to create a knowledge-based economy. This opens the opportunity to create an "innovation state" and be on the leading edge in terms of technology.

Continuing to focus on technology, a question from a viewer via the internet asked what the cost-benefit ration is for providing broadband internet to rural areas. Graham's answer was that there is no question that the benefits outweigh the costs, noting that the internet is a crucial resource for connecting people and providing opportunities to citizens in rural areas. Ebert agreed and mentioned that data processing centers have great potential to build the economy if large companies can be recruited to do their business in the Piedmont. He also noted that NC as grabbed the attention of some notable companies already, citing Apple and Google.

catawbaAUDIENCE POLL:

Will your children or grandchildren be able to make a living in this region?
yes 85%
no 15%

Is enough being done to lure new businesses to the area?
yes 40%
no 60%

Do you actively support local businesses?
Yes, always - 56%
Sometimes - 44%
No - 0%

What do you believe would most improve the economic oulook for the region with jobs being the ultimate goal?
A. More educational opps 43%
B. Improved infrastructure 17%
C. Increase in federal state or loval incentives 20%
D. Better leading to promote communities' assets 20%

When asked if they were surprised by the audiences responses to the poll questions, the panelists NC Rising Catawba Valley Town Hall Meetingadmitted they were not. Ebert said he was especially unsurprised that people think that more could be done to lure business to the area, but says that 85% of all jobs created come from businesses that are already in NC.

A question from a viewer via the internet turned the discussion to small and local businesses, asking what support exists for small businesses and what do they need? Hinshaw responded by citing the programs that are in place to assist manufacturers in product development and innovation. These programs help existing and new businesses with their bottom line. Ebert added that the partnerships within the community are a beneficial resource to business owners, too, and can elevate and empower the state on a national level.catawba

Blackwell then mentioned his lack of surprise in reagrds to people believing that educational improvements could best help the state. To both business people and community leaders, education is a top priority, in his opinion. Hinshaw agreed and noted how the community college system supports those improvements. According to him, people are becoming more comfortable with the "2 + 2" approach: two years at a community college and two years at a university. He believes that better education, however it is obtained, mean big changes for the area.

Graham suggested that the state focus on building on the assets it already has, determining who the stakeholders are, and responding to their needs. Dugan believes that one of the Piedmont's biggest assets is that people want to live here. The climate, educational opportunities, and proximity to big cities are among the reasons that people locate to the area. He went on to emphasize "for people to move their businesses here, they have to want to live here." Blackwell cited the natural resources and landscape of the state as another benefit to residents and potential residents. The Piedmont is close to both the mountains and the coast, has a big city and adequate highways; as he puts it "we're close enough that we have a lot to offer, but far enough away not to have the problems." One area that is lacking, however, is infrastructure, according to Graham. Dugan agreed, noting how the state would benefit to from rail access between Charlotte, the Triad and the Triangle.

NC Rising Catawba Valley Town Hall MeetingA viewer question via the internet turned the discussion to the green economy, asking what the Piedmont is doing to invest in green industry and create green jobs. Ebert responded that many companies in the area are investing in green industry, but posits the question "what does a green job looks like?" Companies are making their manufacturing processes more sustainable, reducing their carbon footprints, and now a generation of consumers who are concerned about more that just the cost of a product is emerging. When it comes to furniture, Dugan said, companies are trying to be greener, but are struggling against foreign trade and slowing economy. Hinshaw added that the 58 community colleges in the state have launched "pro-green initiatives," looking into what niche programs can be developed for specific regions.

According to Ebert, economies worldwide are unwinding, but North Carolina could be the one to figure it out. He believes NC already has all the pieces of the puzzle, it's now just up to the leaders to put it all together. Hinshaw agreed, adding that investing in creating a workforce that is capable of critical thinking and problem solving it critical, that those are skills that every industry is looking for.

catawbaAUDIENCE POLL:

What industries or sectors show the most potential in terms of economic development?
Agriculture 2%
Biotechnology 20%
Manufacturing 10%
Construction 6%
Medical 39%
Data Processing 18%

Blackwell believes that the world is now operating on information and research, so information and NC Rising Catawba Valley Town Hall Meetinganalysis are central to future economic development. Hinshaw said he was not surprised that so many people believed the medical sector showed so much promise. With a large aging population, there is a growing potential for medical innovation and technology opportunities, but overall he believes that a healthy balance exists among all the industry sectors in the state.catawba

The discussion concluded with a question from an audience member who is concerned for her children. She asked what the panelists believe is the timeframe for getting Catawba County back on track economically, and when residents should expect to see a positive change. Graham answered by noting the good fundamental resources and assets that exist in NC. There are a lot of struggles in the communities of the Piedmont and not all of them are new. While there is much recovery to undergo, there is hope that NC will turn the corner. She emphasized, however, that the state must focus on emerging with a more resilient economy for the future.