21st Century plan should reap rewards

Published 8:33 am Friday, June 22, 2007

By Staff
Sometimes a person can’t grasp a problem because he or she is too close to it.
If one steps away, and lets somebody new to the situation take a look, they can often see the bigger picture that others might be missing.
In a way, that’s part of what the 21st Century Communities program is doing. Officials from the N.C. Department of Commerce were in Washington this week to meet with area leaders. Teams from Raleigh and elsewhere asked 41 questions of about 40 area leaders. Each interview took at least an hour, some up to two hours.
They asked questions like:
Some of those questioned work daily on certain aspects of economic development and job creation. Others don’t. That was the purpose. There were leaders from business, government and community organizations attending.
The answers they got will be combined in a report. The individual comments will be confidential, but the overall document will be something everybody should read. It just might gel public opinion into a document the vast majority of the public can buy into. At the very least, we hope it won’t be another study that will collect dust on a shelf. It’s part of a broad-based effort to study the perceived strengths and weaknesses of the region. The local remarks will be reviewed by people who make community development their profession and have the distance from day-to-day affairs that might allow them to find solutions where others can’t.
We’d like to think the document would show a consensus of where Beaufort County stands today and what direction it should be heading. Maybe our individual ideas are off base. Maybe they aren’t. Maybe one person’s view of a problem is shared by the majority, but a plan of action hasn’t been put in place. The study might show that.
The program goes far beyond just producing a single document. It should result in some real help for the county once our needs are documented.
The Department of Commerce has partners in the effort, including other state agencies, Golden LEAF, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the N.C. Partnership for Children. They have resources that individual groups might not.
It would be nice to think Beaufort County will see federal and state aid rolling in as a result. But money alone won’t cure our problems. Some local businesses don’t even apply for economic assistance that is already available because of the red tape. Perhaps because of the visit to Washington, the Department of Commerce will see that and change the way government works to make it more user friendly.
By being a 21st Century “Community,” Beaufort County will be given special treatment for a year. The requirement of a local match for some grants will be waived. When special assistance programs become available, 21st Century areas will be put at the top of the stack in terms of priority. That can make a real difference. An even bigger difference can be made once we have a plan in place that we can all agree on.