August 2017

Y'all, the miles are racking up. Rural Center President Patrick Woodie and I are now at the halfway point of our Rural Road Trip. In six months we have visited almost 40 of North Carolina's 80 rural counties. In each county, we have met with a wide variety of leaders from business, government, education, health care, and nonprofits, along with active citizens committed to the improvement of their communities.

Everywhere we have gone, we have been inspired by the resilience of communities in the face of change and excited by innovative solutions to tough challenges. Most of all, though, we have been astounded by how committed rural communities are to working together to achieve big things for their people.

We've seen it in Ashe County, where the local public school system and community college have worked together to prepare students for 21st Century jobs. We've seen it in Columbus County, where citizens have come together to support each other in the midst of Hurricane Matthew's destruction. And we've seen it in the Northeast, as Dare, Hyde, and Tyrrell Counties have broken down bureaucratic barriers and formed the first consolidated 911 emergency response center in the state.

We are amazed at all of this cooperation in action, but I can't say we're surprised. These are core rural values - recognizing each person's worth, making extraordinary use of scarce resources, and forming strong communities that stick together through thick and thin.

Our state and our nation need these values right now. We have never needed to come together more, and yet the prospect of cooperation seems more distant day-by-day.

For those who say we are too divided to unite, let's hold up rural North Carolina as an example. Our rural counties display great diversity; one of these, Robeson County, is one of the most racially diverse rural counties in the nation. 

Diversity can make us stronger, but only if we remain committed to the values of working together.

The Rural Center's mission is to promote sound economic development strategies for the rural people and communities in North Carolina that are most in need. The core of economic development is diversity. Whether we are talking business development, infrastructure, or public decision-making, diversity puts more options on the table and protects us from risk, making our future more secure.

I am inspired every day by you - the people I meet across North Carolina who are working together for a brighter future. You prove to me that our best days are ahead of us. You show me that #RuralCounts because in rural North Carolina, we get things done by counting on everyone - not in spite of, but because of our differences.

 John Coggin
 Director of Advocacy

Employment Growth: A Challenge for Many Rural Counties

What's the Data?

This month's data visualization compares the one-year change in employment for all 100 North Carolina counties from May 2016 to May 2017. Counties are sorted into three categories of  rural, urban, and suburban, with green indicating gain in employment and red denoting employment loss.
Click on a county in the graph's top navigation to see the numeric and percentage change in employment for each county for the one-year timeframe.

  • Most encouraging is the solid recovery in the Western Piedmont counties. Burke, Caldwell, Alexander, and Wilkes all showed good employment growth, with Wilkes County being just two-tenths a point below the state average.
  • Of the top-five rural counties with employment growth, two are very rural: Graham and Swain. Both those counties had small growth in total numbers but good percentage growth. The other three are rural counties that are suburbanizing within metro regions: Franklin and Johnston - two counties adjacent to the Triangle - and Brunswick, a high population growth county on the coast.
  • The five counties with the most significant employment loss are all very small and all very rural. However, it should be noted that some larger rural counties still struggled, notably Edgecombe and Nash.
  • Of the six urban counties, Wake and Mecklenburg stand out as the big gainers in the state. Another standout is Forsyth County, but not for the same reasons. Forsyth's growth rate, while positive, was significantly lower than the state's other urban counties. 
Our Take

The county classification summary at the bottom of the data visualization aggregates a now familiar story: Overall employment growth in our  rural counties continues to significantly lag growth in suburban and urban counties. The nearly even division between  rural counties that experienced growth and decline accounts for the anemic 0.4 percent  rural growth rate. While conditions are improving, the data suggests a continued uneven economic growth for our  rural counties.
Despite this, I am encouraged by what I see. The narrative to pay attention to is within the  rural counties - counties formerly in decline are now experiencing employment growth, and that growth is geographically diverse. Challenges remain for half of our  rural counties, but we can now ask the healthy questions: What are the lessons we can learn from growing  rural counties?  How can rural advocates advance this peer learning? And how can the Center help you do this? 
Bottom line: This is a step in the right direction. 

Jason Gray
Senior Fellow, Research & Policy


Congress returns to Washington after Labor Day to face these critical issues:
  • Increase the $19 trillion debt ceiling before Treasury defaults
  • Pass appropriations bills to keep federal programs from shutting down
  • Release an outline of a tax reform package
  • Find a bipartisan fix for the Affordable Care Act
Read all about what's happening in Washington during the summer recess and be prepared to take action this fall with this month's Dispatches from DC.


Now that the Rural Counts strategies are finalized and the program has been launched, the Rural Center has embarked on an 80-county tour of all the rural counties in North Carolina to listen to citizens and leaders discuss local perspectives on statewide issues.

Rural Center President Patrick Woodie and Advocacy Director John Coggin have visited 33 counties so far, hearing about local success stories in education, transportation, health care, and more. They have also gotten feedback about areas where rural communities most need to band together to amplify each other's voices on the rural economic development issues most important to us all.

Our seven next stops will get us halfway to our goal! Interested in participating? Sign up now by clicking the registration links below.

Davie Campus, Davidson County Community College, Mocksville
Monday, August 21
10:00 a.m.

Kerr-Tar Regional Council of Governments, Henderson
Monday, August 28
9:00 a.m.

Town of Louisburg Operations Center, Louisburg
Monday, August 28
3:00 p.m.

Granville County Expo & Convention Center, Oxford
Tuesday, August 29
9:00 a.m.

Person County Office Building, Roxboro
Tuesday, August 29
3:00 p.m.

Brunswick Community College, Bolivia
Thursday, August 31
9:00 a.m.
Waiting for a meeting in your county? Contact  John Coggin to schedule a community forum in your town.

New papers outline what it takes to help our kids

Our partners at the NC Early Childhood Foundation released a groundbreaking new resource this week for the statewide Pathways to Grade-Level Reading Initiative: " What Works for Third Grade Reading." 

This collection of working papers addresses whole-child, birth-to-age-eight factors that move the needle on children's reading proficiency at third grade and offers research-based policy, practice, and program options  that can make progress on those factors. Specifically , the working papers address 12 of the North Carolina Pathways to Grade-Level Reading Initiative's   Measures of Success . There are four working papers in each of three Pathways goals areas:
  • Health and Development on Track, Beginning at Birth
  • Supported and Supportive Families and Communities
  • High Quality Birth-through-age-Eight Learning Environments with Regular Attendance
Each working paper details why the Pathways measure matters for third-grade reading, outlines how it is connected to the other Pathways Measures of Success, defines relevant terms and offers national research-based options that can impact the measure, including polices (federal, state legislative, state departmental, and local), practices (protocols to implement policies, some of which might be driving good outcomes, and some which might be obstacles to improving outcomes), and programs and capacities (provider capacity, parent capacity, public understanding, and will-building; and array of quality programs to move the measures). All sources are cited.

While these papers are still a work in progress, NCECF is eager to share this information and is releasing them now in draft form.

The papers are online here. Follow the hashtag #bthru8pathways on Twitter to learn more and receive updates.

"What Works for Third Grade Reading"  was produced by the Institute for Child Success and the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation, in collaboration with BEST NC, to support the work of the NC Pathways to Grade-Level Reading
initiative. The papers were authored by: 
  • Janice M. Gruendel, Ph.D., Institute for Child Success
  • Mandy Ableidinger, North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation 
  • Keller Anne Ruble, Institute for Child Success

Director of Advocacy
The Rural Center