One on one with D.G. Martin

With the hard-charged atmosphere of the 2010 election fading away, what do we do now? First, we can remember two things: 1) Elections make a difference; but also 2) They don't change things all at once (or, really, all that much).

Meanwhile, North Carolinians looking for changes for the better will still be demanding help from their government. Consider, for example, some of the questions posed at a Nov. 15 economic summit in Asheville sponsored by AdvantageWest.

To answer those questions, the regional economic-development partnership (which serves 23 of the state’s western counties) recruited a group of prominent North Carolinians, including Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, state Treasurer Janet Cowell, Anita Brown-Graham of the Institute for Emerging Issues and banking leader Austin Adams.

As the moderator of this distinguished group, my job was to sort out, summarize and present questions submitted by people from across the mountain region. And given the panel’s makeup, I wasn’t surprised to find a lot of questions about government policy and possible courses of action.

For instance:
• Are the state's educational programs diverse enough to support the needs of a changing employment direction?
• Since recovery is going to be slower, have the state's economic-development officials considered identifying those industries that have the strongest potential for both growth and future employment, and therefore giving them greater assistance (rather than providing assistance equally across the board)?
• With austerity becoming the new governmental mindset, should North Carolina raise taxes on tobacco and alcohol to levels more in line with our neighboring states?
• Would lowering the state’s corporate tax rate encourage businesses to locate here?
• Should North Carolina consider rolling furloughs for state employees? A month? A week?
•  Why is the state "missing the boat legislatively" in supporting the developing solar-power, wind and hydro industries that are struggling to implement these technologies in North Carolina?
• Without a natural-gas-pipeline infrastructure capacity, the region is at an economic disadvantage in attracting significant new industry. What can North Carolina and the region do to upgrade natural-gas infrastructure in an affordable way?
• If the new Republican majorities in the state Legislature forget that they will be held accountable, this question should remind them: Our state Legislature has changed. We have a window of opportunity to give them a challenge. What should we ask them to do to bring JOBS to Western N.C.?

Other thoughtful questions raised hopeful possibilities for the region.
• Former UNCA Chancellor David Brown asked, Is it realistic for WNC to aspire to become the integrative-health apex in the nation?
• With the region already showing itself to be an outstanding location for companies involved in the advanced-manufacturing sector, what must it do to recruit projects of sizable employment and investment, like the BMW, VW and Boeing sites that were lured to surrounding regions?
• How can the region build on the momentum created by several new data-center projects that have already been attracted?

But business leader Mack Pearsall posed a series of questions and comments that haunt me and that ought to be on the mind of every American:
• Has the American democratic, capitalist system evolved in the global economy to where it can create wealth — but not jobs in large enough numbers to replace the millions lost? One should remember that our government, large or small, is funded by tax on income, not wealth. If that is the case, what is the future for the American middle class as we have come to know it? What can we in Western N.C. do to revitalize our middle class and give it another shot at economic prosperity?

— D.G. Martin hosts UNC-TV's North Carolina Bookwatch.

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