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By the Numbers

by Winn Maddrey

August 6,2007

Since relocating to Charlotte from Washington, DC in late 1995, I have thought that the Charlotte-Mecklenburg region and North Carolina were great – great places to live, work and to raise a family. (I went to college in NC. I am a graduate of Davidson; a time that is hard to recall based upon college hi-jinks, my age and my young children.) I chose the Charlotte region, which is growing, booming and increasing in stature on a national stage. So are the other major counties around the state – Wake, Durham, Guilford, Forsyth, Buncombe, New Hanover, Gaston, Union and so on.

But get in the car and drive 2-3 counties away from those centers. Once you bypass the bedroom communities, you enter a different North Carolina, one that looks more like a second-world country. It is in these communities that the dramatic changes seen in larger counties have not been echoed, even on a smaller scale. Stated differently, we are becoming a state that is built on interstates 26/40/77/85.

North Carolina recently moved into the “elite” – joining the top ten most populous states in the United States. North Carolina is expected to continue its growth and become the seventh largest state by 2030. When I first read about this projected growth in the daily paper not too long ago, I did so in passing. As I considered what to write in this column, I gave it further thought. I realized that I needed to research other facts before sharing. So I did. And I became concerned.

I went to the Census website to see how North Carolina ranked in other areas. The results follow, but first a little background. Math is not my strong point; all the following stats are the result of hard work provided by our (yours and mine) tax dollars and subsequent sweat by the U.S. Census Bureau. When I used to read a more varied set of periodicals – versus current slate of business, entrepreneurship, design and odds and ends publications – I loved Harper’s Magazine. For many reasons, I must admit, I was addicted to Harper’s Index, featured each month.

It is in this spirit that I have recast some information about North Carolina:

• $347,000,000,000 - 2005 GDP of state in current dollars – ranked 12th
• 8,856,505 - 2006 resident population – ranked 10th
• 15.5% - 2005 mobile homes, percent of total housing units – ranked 4th
• 15.1% - 2005 persons below poverty level – ranked 12th
• 10.1% - 2000-2006 resident population, percentage change – ranked 9th
• 8.2% - 2003 infant mortality rate – ranked 8th

So what, right? Our scores on the mobile homes, non-farm employment, persons below poverty level and infant mortality rate all prove that bigger is not better. And that’s the good news.

Worse yet, consider this – North Carolina is WAY behind its presumed standing in the following areas: (a) doctors per 100,000 population, (b) persons with a bachelor’s degree or more, (c) public elementary and secondary school teacher’s average salaries, (d) unemployment rate, (e) average annual pay, (f) median household income, and (g) house ownership rank. This was a wake up call to me. How can we attract and retain new arrivals? How can we keep our recent college graduates if this is the case?

It was with dismay that I poured through the data, realizing that we are growing our population, expanding our urban areas and yet, apparently, not addressing some raw, core issues. Rapid growth – we’re the seventh fastest growing state – combined with ineffectual policies to address inequities and disparities are not the right recipe for success.

Since January 1st, I have logged a large amount of time on the road in North Carolina, driving from county to county. In these treks – encompassing an estimated 12,000 miles, 50+ counties – I realized how separate and distinct the state is once one is more than 20 miles from an interstate. And how we, in growing urban environments, whether recruiting business, investing in infrastructure, and setting the stage for the next few decades of growth, must realize that we must find ways to grow the whole state – even as the population migrates to the urban centers.

Welcome to the top ten.

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