Category: Community and Economic Development (page 1 of 3)

Rural Broadband – Yancey and Mitchell Counties

The Challenge 

The North Carolina Broadband Infrastructure Office (NC BIO) estimates that at least 637,000 North Carolinians lack broadband at the minimum speed recommended by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Most of these residents are in rural counties, although the rural/urban distinction is not the only determinant of broadband access. Income also plays a role in access to broadband—only 13% of households in rural counties with an income of $75,000 or greater lack access to broadband. In general, states with larger rural populations have lower broadband adoption rates, because of the cost and difficulty of installation, among other factors.

In Mitchell and Yancey Counties, potential employment and economic development opportunities were stifled by the lack of broadband in the area. Local businesses struggled, and a local Glen Raven manufacturing plant was on the brink of closing because of the lack of broadband. Attracting and retaining employees with appropriate skills was becoming difficult for local manufacturers like BRP and educational institutions in the community were not able to provide programs that could train local students for these jobs. Tourism also suffered as hotels, restaurants, and more were unable to attract customers, run their business, or provide internet services for their guests.

Roadblocks for providing broadband at the municipal level make solutions more difficult. North Carolina state law places requirements on municipalities that make it difficult to provide broadband for their residents. As a result, it is nearly impossible for municipalities to build out new broadband networks, making collaborative partnerships necessary to overcome rural broadband accessibility problems.

The Solution

A $25.3 million Community Connect Grant from the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service in 2010 made it possible for a collaborative partnership between the counties and Country Cablevision to install fiber optic cables in Mitchell and Yancey Counties. They completed the first leg of the network in 2014 and added more legs as more customers requested the service. Almost 1500 miles of cable were needed to expand broadband access and more than 900 miles were installed using grant funds. Since the counties were unable to fund or regulate the infrastructure improvements themselves, the partnership with the USDA and Country Cablevision were vital to installing the network and getting high-speed broadband to 97% of Mitchell and Yancey County homes and businesses.

 

New routing switches are installed to support Country Cablevision’s expanded broadband service in rural North Carolina.

The Players

This collaboration is funded by US Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service, which provided the initial grant to expand broadband in both counties. Because of the difficulty of installation and the high cost-per-customer, Dean Russell, the program manager, states that the project “would not have been built without the government grant.” Nationwide, this USDA grant program has brought broadband to almost six million rural Americans. The county governments formed a public-private partnership with Country Cablevision, an internet provider, to install the nearly 1,000 miles of cable. Local businesses and residents were able to support the installation by signing up for service, which meant that Country Cablevision could afford to do last mile installation by ensuring a return on their investment based on the rate of users who subscribed for service.

The Promise

Mitchell and Yancey Counties now have over 97% of homes and businesses connected to high-speed fiber optic broadband, with speeds up to 100 megabits per second for homes and 1 gigabyte per second for businesses. These are some of the fastest speeds in the state, competing with metro areas like Charlotte and Raleigh. This access enables small businesses in the area to prosper, including Homeplace Brewing, whose owner says without expansion of broadband they would not be able to complete business logistics, run their point of sale network, or offer free Wi-Fi to their customers. Broadband access also made it possible for new employment partnerships to form, including between Mayland Community College and the BRP manufacturing plant, who work collaboratively through the College’s advanced manufacturing program to train and retain workers in the area.

Other Internet Service Providers (ISPs) seek to use similar partnerships to install broadband in other rural areas of North Carolina. The French Broad Electric Membership Corporation, which serves the North Carolina counties of Buncombe, Madison, Mitchell and Yancey, is conducting a similar six-phase broadband initiative, of which three phases are complete. Although sometimes complicated because of restrictions on municipal involvement in broadband installation and rules governing treating broadband as a utility, service is expanding to some of the most rural parts of the state with the help of collaborative partnerships among federal, state, and local governments, businesses, and residents, who can now get and stay connected to vital 21st century technology.

Affordable Teacher Housing – Dare County

The Challenge 

Recruiting and retaining teachers are difficult tasks for many school districts in North Carolina. Many offer salary supplements to recruit and retain employees, but others are going beyond that to provide affordable housing for teachers in their communities. Research indicates that teacher salaries do not keep pace with rising housing costs in many parts of North Carolina, leaving many teachers unable to afford housing in the community where they work. These conditions force them to live farther from work, resulting in increased commuting time and transportation costs, or to seek work in another community with better opportunities. In a Reach NC Voices statewide survey of public school teachers, the majority (60%) of teachers who responded indicated affordable housing is a barrier to teaching in their district. Almost half report paying more than the recommended 30 percent of their income on housing.

In Dare County, teachers and other public employees are often unable to afford housing on their incomes. “That’s one of the wealthiest counties in the state. Except for all the wealth is from out-of-state beach house owners. The teachers and firemen and the policemen have to live outside the area. They can’t afford the rents,” says Jim Blaine, president of the State Employees Credit Union. This challenge can lead to teacher turnover, which means that students are more likely to be taught by less experienced teachers and have diminished educational outcomes. These effects are particularly true for low income and minority students, who are disproportionately assigned to novice teachers, widening the already significant achievement gap in many communities.

 

The Solution

Since teacher pay in North Carolina is generally based on years of experience, many monetary incentives for teacher recruitment and retention are not particularly effective or sustainable. Therefore, other types of incentives, like affordable housing guarantees, can be a tool for school systems that struggle with turnover and/or local housing affordability. The State Employees Credit Union worked with community partners in several counties across North Carolina to provide funding for teacher housing in counties and towns with limited rental units and expensive housing costs. They provide no-interest loans that the community partners pay back through the rent earned. After the loans are paid back, community partners are able to use the funds for the advancement of community goals.

In Dare County, these loans are used to provide affordable teacher housing units in Kill Devil Hills and Cape Hatteras. There are currently two such complexes: Run Hill Ridge, a 24-unit complex in Kill Devil Hills (built in 2008) and Hatteras Teacher Housing, a 12-unit building in Buxton (built in 2011). These 2-bedroom, 2-bath units rent for $850 per month, prioritizing teachers and school leaders, but are also available to anyone employed by Dare County Schools (DCS), Dare County, or the state or federal government if the units are not filled. Additionally, DCS implemented a beginning teacher support plan, which guarantees not only affordable housing for the first four years of teaching, but also additional instructional mentoring and support to encourage professional development and retention.

Although not enough to establish causality, the opening of teacher housing complexes in Hertford and Dare Counties seems to have positively impacted teacher turnover rates.

The Players

This collaboration is funded by the State Employee’s Credit Union Foundation, partnering with the Dare Education Foundation. The complexes are funded with a no-interest loan from the SECU Foundation, which allows for their construction and other upfront costs. After the loan is repaid through rent collected over time, additional revenues will help the foundation support Dare County Schools. Both complexes are owned by Dare Education Foundation, allowing them to have a long-term investment to recruit and house new teachers.

 

The Promise

This program has been successful in recruiting more teachers to Dare County and reducing the amount of turnover experienced by Dare County Schools. There are factors that other communities may want to consider before implementing this program. One is the availability of permanent, affordable housing for teachers to rent or purchase in order to continue to use these sorts of complexes for recruitment. For example, Dare County is now enforcing a four-year time limit on this program’s leases. “The original purpose of the housing units was temporary housing for teachers…a gateway into finding other places,” Dare County Schools (DCS) Digital Communications Director Keith Parker said. But he said in some cases the teacher housing units, “have become more permanent scenarios. The original mission was as a recruiting tool.” This permanent transition to other housing will depend on local housing availability and affordability, which varies widely in North Carolina communities.

Responding to Energy Poverty – Halifax and Northampton Counties

The Challenge 

According to U.S. Census data in 2015, more than 288,000 households in North Carolina live at up to 50 percent of the poverty line, and face energy burdens of 35% or more. Another 371,000 households in North Carolina live at 51% to 100% of the poverty line and face a 19% energy burden. These data indicate that more than 650,000 households in North Carolina spend approximately 20% or more of their household income on energy costs. This trend is particularly true for extremely low income (ELI) renters, who live at or below the poverty line and whose energy bills may actually represent a larger expense than their rent. Twenty- six percent (26%) of renter households in North Carolina are extremely low income and 70% of ELI renter households have an extreme cost burden because of their energy bills.

Energy efficiency investments, particularly for inefficient residences, are often the most cost-effective ways to reduce a household’s energy burden. Weatherizing a home can make it more efficient, lowering energy costs as well as mitigating the health impacts of energy inefficient homes. The health benefits of weatherization include lower risk of carbon monoxide leaks, less stress, and better sleep, as well as better quality air for allergy and asthma sufferers. Since low-income areas tend to concentrate the negative health consequences associated with substandard housing, weatherizing can address social health inequities as well as improve the health of individuals and families. Yet poorer residents typically lack the resources to make energy investments, especially in rural areas like eastern North Carolina.

 

The Solution

Regional partners in northeastern North Carolina addressing energy poverty in a unique way. A program from Roanoke Electric allows low-income residents to access weatherization services for minimal up-front costs, reducing their energy bills and making their homes safer and healthier. The program uses tariffed on-bill financing to make energy improvements to customer homes. Tariffed on-bill financing allows for a utility to front all or some of the money for energy efficiency investments and then recover the investment through an on-bill tariff that is less than the estimated savings. The on-bill charge is tied to the meter, enabling all rate-payers, including renters, to participate in the “Upgrade to Save” program. Roanoke Electric and other cooperatives implemented the program for owner occupied residences as well and report substantial energy savings and low default rates. This program provides positive outcomes for low-income residents who may pay more in energy bills than their rent. It also incentivizes firms like Roanoke Electric to provide weatherization improvements to low-income customers while still recouping their costs, making the program more sustainable for the community in the long run.

The Choanoke Area for Development Association (CADA) runs another program to help low-income homeowners and renters with their energy costs. It receives funding from the USDA, USDOE, and the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency to weatherize and rehabilitate the homes of eligible residents in the region. The Weatherization Assistance Program provides funding from the US Department of Energy to states, which in turn recruit local agencies to administer the weatherization program for low-income residents, including senior adults and those with disabilities. Weatherization services through CADA include replacing broken units, insulation, weatherizing doors and windows, duct work, and more to make a home more energy efficient.

 

The Players

Roanoke Electric administers their Upgrade to Save program with funding from the USDA’s Rural Utility Service, which provides loans to utility companies and electric cooperatives through the Energy Efficiency Conservation Loan Program. Roanoke Electric identified the contractors who make the upgrades to homes as key partners, although other firms may choose to make the repairs with in-house employees.

CADA works to administer the Weatherization Assistance Program, which the US Department of Energy funds through the NC Low-Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP). However, limited funding may cause individuals to wait for months or years before receiving services. The NC Clean Energy Technology Center uses data to help local governments improve their energy grids and services and helped CADA mail letters to those on their wait-list who may be eligible to take advantage of the Roanoke Electric Upgrade to Save program. Such collaboration among weatherization programs can help more residents receive services, as well as more efficiently utilize state and federal funding for these programs.

Source: US Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy

 

The Promise

Program participants interviewed by ncIMPACT expressed high satisfaction with their weatherization improvements. Benjamin Williams of Murfreesboro participated in the Roanoke Electric weatherization program and described that the new improvements, including new duct work, central HVAC unit, and outdoor repairs, saved him a significant amount of money each month. He plans to use some of the savings on his seven grandchildren. Doretha Hunter of Enfield, who received assistance through CADA, had her attic, doors, and windows insulated, as well as a new HVAC unit installed after her air conditioning failed during the hot summer months. Without the program, it would have been a $7,000 repair – not possible for Doretha, who lives on a fixed income. She was pleased the crew did even more than she asked for to ensure that she was safe and comfortable in her home.

Programs like these provided by Roanoke Electric and CADA can help low-income households reduce their energy bills and improve safety and comfort in their homes. According to NC Clean Energy Technology Center’s Ann Tazewell, these programs may help residents who have to choose between paying their electric bill or paying for food or medication. Weatherization can also improve health outcomes, especially for those who already have respiratory conditions like allergies or asthma. For communities considering implementing one of these programs, a key factor would be assessing the effect of energy bills on affordable housing and its implications for low-income homeowners and renters. In areas with fewer safe affordable housing options, weatherization can help bridge the gap for residents with low incomes and improve their health and well-being.

Building Integrated Communities—Sanford

The Challenge

Immigrants represent an important segment of North Carolina residents, making up about 8% of the population, about 12% of self-employed business owners, and accounting for over $14 billion in spending power. The population of immigrants with limited English proficiency (LEP) represents 9 percent of the nation’s population. North Carolina experienced the second-greatest LEP population growth in the U.S. from 1990-2010.

The City of Sanford and Lee County experienced a growing immigrant population and wanted to learn more about this community. The county and city conducted an assessment of their immigrant community in 2014 and 2015 in partnership with the UNC Latino Migration Project (LMP). The study revealed a number of reasons that immigrants chose to move to Sanford and Lee County, but also a variety of challenges to living there and the ability to integrate into the community.

Immigrant residents surveyed reported issues regarding access to healthcare, driver’s licenses and alternative forms of identification, education and schools, local government communication, police activities, lack of public transportation options, and work and worker’s rights. Those lacking proof of citizenship or residency status face transportation issues, because without such documentation, residents cannot get a driver’s license. This leaves public transportation as their only option, which is not widely available in North Carolina.

 

The Solution

The Building Integrated Communities (BIC) project is an initiative of the Latino Migration Project at UNC-Chapel Hill. BIC partners with community leaders in local governments such as Sanford and Lee County to draft an action plan that addresses issues identified in community assessments. The action plan includes goals to facilitate and improve civic engagement and leadership, communication, police relationships (“trust and mutual respect” and community policing), and public transportation.

Each goal of the action plan centers around the process of integration, which the project considers a two-way process of residents building an inclusive community in which immigrants are able to participate fully. The action plan outlines examples such as updating the Lee County and City of Sanford websites to include Spanish language viewing options, as well as providing city and county government forms and voter registration forms in Spanish. The local program, El Refugio, contributes to the communication efforts in the community through citizenship, English, and Spanish language classes, as well as providing a list of local resources for families transitioning to life in Sanford.

Civic leadership is one of the key goals of Sanford’s action plan. Sanford and Lee County prioritized increasing meaningful immigrant resident representation on governing boards and among the local leadership. To achieve this end, the action plan recommends hosting a leadership recruitment fair that includes educational classes about local government offered in Spanish and English. The plan outlines potential municipal open houses designed for Spanish-speaking residents and recommends recruiting Spanish-speaking residents to participate in the local Citizen’s Academy. The plan also recommends creating The Hispanic Council of the City of Sanford and Lee County/El Consejo Hispano de la Ciudad de Sanford y el Condado de Lee as an independent body to represent Hispanic residents’ interests.

 

The Players

The City of Sanford and Lee County partnered with the Building Integrated Communities initiative to conduct the study and develop their action plan. The BIC initiative assists communities and local governments around North Carolina to learn more about their immigrant residents and develop inclusive practices. BIC is an initiative of the Latino Migration Project, an education and research program at UNC-Chapel Hill. El Refugio is a community partner in Lee County based out of Jonesboro Methodist Church. The language and family programming services they offer contribute to the BIC action plan and integration process in Sanford and Lee County.

 

The Promise

BIC partnered with six North Carolina communities in the past 10 years, including Chapel Hill, Siler City, Greenville, High Point, Winston-Salem, and Sanford. Through these partnerships, communities across the state engage immigrant residents in their communities and work to address their unique needs through creative and inclusive means. These integration efforts strengthen neighborhoods and communities and make them more desirable places to live and work.

Immigrant residents are important to their communities and the state’s workforce. According to the American Immigration Council, one in ten individuals in the state’s workforce is an immigrant and one in five residents working in the high demand computer and math science occupations are immigrants. The largest shares of immigrants in the state’s workforce are in these sectors: farming, fishing and forestry (44%), construction and extraction (24%), and building and grounds cleaning and maintenance (22%).

 

ncIMPACT Town Hall: Constructing North Carolina’s Creative Placemaking Economy, Premieres Thursday, January 30 at 7pm

The ncIMPACT Initiative at the UNC School of Government partnered with UNC-Charlotte’s Urban Institute, Destination Cleveland County, UNC-TV, and Civic Federal Credit Union to highlight efforts in the Shelby region to leverage cultural resources for economic development. The broadcast will offer a great way to help leaders in other regions of the state better understand how communities like Shelby are using creative placemaking strategies to strengthen their local economy.

“Creative placemaking is a process where community members, artists, arts and culture organizations, community developers, and other stakeholders use arts and cultural strategies to implement community-led change. This approach aims to increase vibrancy, improve economic conditions, and build capacity among residents to take ownership of their communities.” American Planning Association

According to the NC Arts Council, North Carolina’s creative industries are responsible for more than 417,000 jobs, representing 7 percent of the state’s workforce. These jobs generate $18 billion in wages, salaries and benefits. Creative Industries produce $29 billion in revenues and attract arts travelers who stay longer and spend more money while visiting various places.

Panelists for the ncIMPACT Town Hall filmed at the Earl Scruggs Center in Shelby include:

  • Stan Anthony, Mayor, City of Shelby
  • David Dear, Co-Owner, Newgrass Brewing
  • Melanie Graham, Owner, Morgan and Wells Bed and Breakfast
  • Jeff Michael, Director, UNC-Charlotte Urban Institute
  • Brownie Plaster, Destination Cleveland County
  • Audrey Whetten, Executive Director, Uptown Shelby Association

These ongoing statewide ncIMPACT Town Hall events enhance the weekly ncIMPACT series. Just as we take ncIMPACT into communities, tackling problems head on by meeting with bold, positive change agents, the ncIMPACT town halls serve as a convening for a region’s residents, businesses, non-profits and government organizations to share their stories, ideas and solutions.

ncIMPACT is designed to get North Carolinians excited about these opportunities for creating positive change in their communities and in North Carolina. In addition to over-the-air broadcasts, the ncIMPACT series website features individual episodes, segments and web extras. Explore and access it anytime via  unctv.org/ncIMPACT.

Broadband’s Impact on Economic Development: A Lack of Access to Social Capital

Regions across North Carolina have had significantly varying paces of economic development. Social capital levels offer one lens through which to view these regional disparities. Economic development of a given place can greatly depend on the presence and impact of social capital, which includes social culture, norms and collaboration that promote development activities and possible economic reform.

Social capital can be used and leveraged to achieve the goals of a collective group with an outcome of more economic capital due to connections. Social capital increases the efficiency of social exchange, allowing for communication and collaboration to occur. There are three types of social capital that can be leveraged: bonding, bridging, and linking. Bonding, or in group cohesion, refers to the relationships built among individuals with characteristics or group membership in common.  Bridging, or out of group cohesion, refers to relationships built among individuals, communities, or groups with differing background characteristics or group membership.  Linking is an extension of bridging capital and includes networks and organizations that provide connections across power dynamics, giving access to more resources.

North Carolina residents with no or low access to quality broadband are missing out on important economic benefits of cultivating social capital through connections (Unlocking the Digital Potential of Rural NC Report 2019). Bonding capital can occur through digital connections, bringing individuals of a group together to increase social connections within a group. Bridging capital could be improved by connectivity via broadband access, because many groups of different backgrounds have difficulty connecting face to face or may not even be in proximity to the other group but could greatly benefit from this relationship. Linking social capital is a way in which many communities connect to more powerful networks, allowing for access to thought leadership, information, and resource allocation through broadband access. Without access to this communication, community voices may be left out of the economic development process and therefore have unequal opportunities. Although economic growth will require extended access to Broadband to attract industries providing jobs, this also impacts communities’ ability to form and leverage social capital to improve economic development at all three levels: bonding, bridging, and linking.

In today’s advanced technological world, many connections occur in ways that are not face to face. Many technological platforms have been leveraged to create more efficient connections, which has strengthened the use of social capital for economic development. However, in the state of North Carolina, there is a broadband access rate of 68%, which is likely a conservative estimate. Full broadband access, a necessary utility to access and leverage social capital to improve economic conditions, holds a promise to increase economic mobility for both groups and entire communities.

Sources:

American Community Survey 5-year estimates 2017: Access to Broadband

Laycock, K.E. & Mitchell, C.L. Climatic Change (2019) 152: 47. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-018-2360-6 (graphic)

https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&ved=2ahUKEwiBx6KppZrmAhUjnuAKHUl2BEQQFjABegQIBRAC&url=https%3A%2F%2Famericaninnovators.com%2Fwp-content%2Fuploads%2F2019%2F03%2FUnlocking-the-Digital-Potential-of-Rural-America.pdf&usg=AOvVaw05MOLQvM2VAbQXTaWONs7D

Shortage of Volunteer Firefighters

Did you know… Out of the 1,087 registered fire departments in North Carolina, more than 90% are volunteer or mostly volunteer departments? 

 The Challenge

Municipalities in North Carolina are struggling to recruit volunteer firefighters within their localities. This is likely due to a decrease in the time that residents have, as well as a decreasing interest in emergency services. As more people are finding themselves commuting to work, they are less likely to volunteer in any capacity. However, the most pressing issue for recruitment, is a lack of interest among young populations.

The Solution

When youth are introduced to firefighting curricula, they are more likely to engage as volunteers. This has led to an increase in educational opportunities about the work of firefighters, as well as training programs within schools. In Orange County, the best solution has been training those in high school and community college, which allows students to gain credits while also improving their community. Orange County’s programming for youth in the community has been very successful.

Orange County High School offers courses in three phases: “Fire Fighter Technology I, II, and III.  The completion of both Fire Fighter Technology I and II will cover modules required for all fire fighters in North Carolina.  Fire Fighter Technology I includes modules on Orientation & Safety, Health and Wellness, Portable Extinguishers, Foam Fire Streams, and Emergency Medical.  Fire Fighter Technology II includes modules on Building Construction, Ropes, Alarms & Communications, Forcible Entry, Ladders, Ventilation, and Loss Control.” This has allowed for students to get certified at a younger age, and to know what they want out of their careers sooner. Anywhere from eight to ten students will be involved during the semester.

By creating programming to recruit students to be volunteer firefighters, departments have been able to fill the gaps they have been seeing. Additionally, many schools have created junior firefighting programs, fire academies, and even fire camps for younger children. Bringing these two groups together is essential for success.

The Learning

As localities continue to push for an increase in the number of volunteer firefighters within their community, it will be essential to train folks at a young age. The sooner that kids and teenagers are in contact with fire education, the better. This will allow them to start considering volunteering in the present, as well as becoming a firefighter for their eventual occupation. Departments will need to consider new ways to reach youth in the community. One way to do this is through social media, whether that is through recruitment posts or “day in the life” videos. New and unique tools will be essential for recruitment and will ensure that the number of volunteer firefighters does not continue to decrease.

NC Strategic Economic Development Plan Post-Session Survey

Complete Post-Session Survey for Your Region by Nov. 15 to Inform the NC Strategic Economic Development Plan

Survey with Priorities & Data Profile Available for 8 Regions

On behalf of the North Carolina Department of Commerce, the ncIMPACT Initiative at the UNC School of Government hosted eight regional sessions to collect input from stakeholders across the state to inform North Carolina’s Strategic Economic Development Plan. Attendees engaged in a rich discourse and offered the insights identified in each region’s post-session survey.

Whether you attended the session or not, please complete the online survey and indicate your level of agreement with the statements provided. We want to hear from you about what works in your region and what additional supports from the state could maximize opportunities.

Please click here to see a complete list of regional sessions. You can access the data profile and post-session survey for each region by clicking on the Materials tab. For more information about this project, please watch this brief video.

Please share this information with other individuals who may be interested in participating. We synthesized participant feedback with emphasis on the items attendees noted were priorities for state support of the region. We want to ensure that we accurately report the specific priorities of the region. When you complete the post-session survey, you will have a chance to clarify items by adding details, nullify them by noting your disagreement, or amplify them by sending the survey to others for their feedback.

We are grateful for your participation in this important planning process for our state. We especially want to express our gratitude to the folks who hosted us in each region and made this work possible.

 

REGION HOST DATE LOCATION
North Central NC Rural Center Oct. 1 Raleigh
Northeast Martin Community College Oct. 3 Williamston
Northwest Caldwell Community College & Technical Institute Oct. 29 Lenoir
Piedmont Triad Piedmont Triad Regional Council Oct. 9 Kernersville
Sandhills Fayetteville Technical Community College Sept. 26 Fayetteville
Southeast Sturgeon City Environmental Education Center Oct. 24 Jacksonville
Southwest City of Kannapolis Sept. 19 Kannapolis
Western Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Oct. 30 Cherokee

 

Renewable Energy in Rural Communities

Did you know… Eighteen percent of all electricity in the United States was produced by renewable sources in 2017, including solar, wind, and hydroelectric dams? That’s up from 15% in 2016!

 The Challenge

As society continues to modernize, more issues arise for government entities to address. Budget departments face the need to increase revenues, while the demand for services rises. Additionally, industries have been impacted by changes in specialization. Climate change is also continuing throughout the state as the coast experiences more natural disasters, and temperatures fluctuate. These are only a few of the struggles governments are working to solve, however, one possibility attempts to address these “wicked problems.”

 The Solution

Municipalities have the opportunity to change the way that they function by bringing renewable energy to their communities. Rural areas in North Carolina have brought in both solar and wind power, which benefits the revenue stream and assists in tackling climate change. Solar power companies will come into cities and provide their solar panels. As they become part of the community, they join the local economy, and their taxes highly benefit residents of these cities.

 

 

Wind power has also brought similar benefits to communities, while taking up less space. Some wind agencies have worked with farmers to ensure that turbines do not ruin the local industries. For example, they have implanted the devices in farmland, and worked with farmers to create space around the turbine for them to further their crop yield. It has allowed for greater crop growth and assisted in the fight against climate change.

The Network that Worked

In America, 55% of current investments into renewable energy go to rural counties due to their access to resources and smaller populations. Therefore, as more companies are looking to bring their business to rural areas, it is important that North Carolina stand apart. The Amazon Wind Farm alone brings in around $800 million in revenue to the state, so it is essential for the officials to assist in making North Carolina desirable for investors. Further, local government entities need to push folks to come to the area, if this is the way they choose to increase revenue. Additionally, researchers need to continue to disperse their findings to rural communities, so they can better analyze the costs and benefits to renewable energy in their localities.

 

 

The Learning

Cities or counties looking to bring renewable energy to their community will need to consider a variety of issues. First, the benefits of bringing renewable energy to your community, are that it: 1) addresses climate change, 2) improves public health, 3) an inexhaustible energy source, 4) provides jobs and other economic benefits, 5) creates stable energy prices, and 6) forms general reliability and reliance on renewables.

However, there are also some barriers that entities also need to be aware of: 1) negotiations and deals with renewable companies, 2) fluctuations in property values and population, and 3) general fights from opponents. Consideration will be necessary, but after an appropriate analysis, real change can be seen in rural communities that bring in renewables.

Downtown Development in Kinston, NC

Did you know… From July 2011 to June 2017, Lenoir County has invested 288.6 million in economic development and created 1,236 jobs during the process?

 The Challenge

As municipalities in North Carolina lose residents due to a decrease in demand for certain industries, cities are searching for innovative ways to recruit new people to the area. Kinston was struggling to maintain city networks after the 2008 financial crisis, and the decline of their tobacco industry. People had lost their sense of community, and their ties to the area. Kinston was searching for an ideal solution and found that the best way for them to recruit new residents while retaining old ones was through downtown development.

 The Solution

Kinston is as a unique example for rural areas looking to reinvigorate their communities and economies. Small businesses in the area have partnered with the local leaders to create changes that will benefit the town in a variety of ways. One such example of this is Kinston’s Planning Department revolving loan program that allows for entrepreneurs to come to the area, while also contributing to the economy of the city.

The Network that Worked

Kinston has relied on its networks to push downtown development forward. Community members note that it has been so successful due to the involvement of government leaders, main street directors, business and property owners, developers, and anyone willing to take on a leadership role. In a town of roughly 20,000 people this has led to a high investment of those living there. Public-private partnerships have created a downtown that many people are excited to move to, baby boomers and millennials alike.

Businesses in Kinston have highlighted that the most crucial part of their involvement has been remaining complementary to each other, and not becoming overly competitive. Each business sees themselves as part of a unit in the downtown district, working to build others up, instead of tearing them down. This uplifting nature has allowed businesses to thrive and remain in the area, which furthers the economy and investment in the downtown district.

The Learning

There have been a variety of takeaways for Kinston that any municipality looking to further their downtown development will need to know. First, any city looking to do this will need to have a full understanding of their existing assets, as well as the values of the residents. Knowing your assets allows you to get a clear picture of what development could turn into, and what needs to be updated in the process. Additionally, if development is not something your residents and business owners are looking for, it will be difficult to get folks on board.

Not only will understanding the values of the existing community be essential for the process, but you will also want to gain an understanding of populations coming to the area. What will stand out to them about your community? Lastly, public-private partnerships will need to be created and utilized throughout the process. Kinston’s partnerships have allowed the city to grow in unique ways, and to thrive in the economic climate today.

 

 

 

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