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OPINION

Power and possibility in the Southeast Crescent

Posted on February 17, 2021

OpinionColumns

Patrick Woodie

Patrick Woodie

For decades, the N.C. Rural Center, N.C. East Alliance and North Carolina’s Southeast have focused on economic development in North Carolina. Though our organizations differ in our specific programs, we have all learned the same important lesson: for communities to prosper, our visioning, planning and building cannot end at the city limits or the county line.

The Southeast Crescent Regional Commission, which covers a seven-state region from Virginia to Mississippi, was established by federal legislation passed in 2008. Since that time, the commission has remained dormant because subsequent presidents have not appointed a federal co-chair. Though the commission’s annual appropriation recently increased to $1 million per year, up from $250,000 — which was an important first step — the commission cannot use this appropriation until President Biden names a federal co-chair. 

The Southeast Crescent encompasses areas that are routinely devastated by hurricanes and other environmental disasters, and we know from our own experiences that environmental disasters threaten economic stability. As we are seeing a concerning uptick in the frequency of “once-in-a-generation” storms, expanded access to federal resources can play a critical role in stabilizing an already-distressed region. 

The Southeast Crescent also contains the largest concentration of historically Black communities in the rural South. We know that Black communities have long suffered from underinvestment, economic inequality and other systemic challenges whose cascading effects negatively affect the health and wealth of current and future generations. This makes activating the commission an important step toward advancing racial equity.

Federal regional commissions are not new entities, either. The Appalachian Regional Commission, established more than 50 years ago, addresses the economic needs of the Appalachian region — which is the most economically distressed region in the United States. ARC’s focus is not simply on brick-and-mortar projects — it includes investments into the region’s people and capacity for long-term advancement to drive comprehensive, equitable and sustainable development. The accomplishments of ARC and other similar entities have established an encouraging precedent for this type of structure and approach to economic development.

The Southeast Crescent region, of where the 25 most economically distressed counties in North Carolina fall, is the second-most economically distressed region in the nation. Under the right leadership and with the right funding, the Southeast Crescent Regional Commission can transform the region and help secure a more prosperous future for its residents. We applaud Gov. Roy Cooper’s support for the commission and ask that North Carolina’s representatives in Congress join the call to operationalize it. 

Regional collaboration and investment can change our communities — we have witnessed it firsthand — and that’s why we are urging President Biden to name a co-chair and activate the Southeast Crescent Regional Commission. We believe it will be a critical tool to effect change for North Carolina’s rural and economically distressed communities and that it has the potential to secure a more vibrant future for communities across the Southeast. 

Patrick Woodie is president of the N.C. Rural Center, Vann Rogerson is president and CEO of the N.C. East Alliance and Steve Yost is president of North Carolina’s Southeast. 

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