Friday, May 24, 2024

Up front: Forward march

I’m part of the pack that lacks what the elder President Bush called “that vision thing,” namely the skill of seeing what’s ahead, then capitalizing. History, the study of how things unfolded, seems far more fascinating. Sorry, Disney, I’m in no hurry to see the new Star Wars movie.

Fortunately, our state is filled with visionaries, prompting us to focus this month’s edition on projections of what’s ahead for our state over the next decade. We received some ideas from N.C. State University’s annual Emerging Issues Forum, which concentrates this year on work. Our writers looked at several key industries, asking what the future may hold.

We emerged with an optimistic view of North Carolina, which has advantages that make other states jealous: climate, differing geography, beauty, top research universities and racial diversity. It’s disappointing that our state has not benefited more from those strengths, reflected in Civitas Institute polls showing a majority of likely primary voters — the people who pay attention — think the state is headed down the wrong track.

I’m influenced by memories of Tar Heel people and places that no longer exist. I miss the textile and furniture mills that created bustle in Asheboro, Hickory, Kannapolis and other towns; the tobacco smell of plants in Reidsville and Winston-Salem; Belk cafeteria in downtown Charlotte that drew blue-collar and white-collar diners; Asheville’s gritty center city before the tourists showed up. I miss CEOs who showed equal concern for their communities as they did padding their net worth.

That’s the past. The more important story is how a reinvented North Carolina is making steady, if frustratingly slow, progress. Politico ranked us the 37th-best state in a January report, based on a variety of statistics. That’s mediocre, but better than H.L. Mencken’s famous 1931 ranking, which put us at 43rd. For partisans who question the journal’s liberal bias, would you really feel any better at 27th or 17th?

Surely a goal for North Carolina over the next decade should be to reach higher and not settle for 37th. Here are three advances that can make it happen:

• A public school system so well-funded and effective that it attracts more children from the state’s most influential families.

Transportation systems and health care that draw broad public support because they benefit the public, not special interests.

• A competitive, pro-business tax structure without compromising a safety net for the marginalized, unifying Art Pope and the
Rev. William Barber.

That’s my “vision thing” for North Carolina, 2026.

Corrections: A January story on electric-vehicle chargers understated the cost of systems installed by Asheville-based Brightfield Transportation Solutions Inc. The cost is $30,000. A January story misstated the correct name of CapTrust Financial Advisors.

David Mildenberg
David Mildenberg
David Mildenberg is editor of Business North Carolina. Reach him at

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