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An ally at the top: Sanders “gets” the East

It’s good to have friends in high places.

We are proud of Machelle Sanders. More importantly, the new North Carolina Commerce Secretary is proud to be one of us.

Eastern North Carolinians have felt underrepresented at the state level for decades, maybe even longer than that.

Hopefully, that will change now that Sanders is in charge of the most influential state government agency involved in job creation. She’s a Belhaven native with deep roots in Beaufort County, who hasn’t forgotten where she came from.

“Belhaven, Bath and the rest of Eastern North Carolina made me who I am,” Sanders said in a recent virtual speech to the Beaufort County Economic Development Board. Her backdrop for the talk was an aerial view of Belhaven from the water. “My aides know me well enough now to look at each other and say, ‘Oh boy, here comes another story about Belhaven.”

Sanders said workforce development should be a top priority for rural counties across the state because manufacturers are considering smaller communities more often in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We agree whole-heartedly and when those inquires come, we have to be ready with a trained workforce, suitable infrastructure and a welcoming quality of life to improve prosperity for all parties involved.

The key to upgrading infrastructure is extending broadband coverage throughout the East. It’s a complicated, thorny, expensive issue that has only recently received attention at the state level.

Federal COVID-19 grant money is now available to help connect remote areas, which will help drive economic development.

“There is no question that broadband access is vital for all of rural North Carolina,” Sanders said. “80 % of our state is rural, so it makes sense to focus on expanding it to lift the entire economy. I’ve heard stories of parents driving their kids to the McDonald’s parking lot to use the internet to do their homework. When I was growing up in Belhaven, the nearest McDonald’s was in Washington, so that concept is unacceptable to me.”

Sanders vision is to make the state’s economy the envy of the world. It might sound far-fetched now, but don’t sell her short. She vows to take a larger role in policy-making with an emphasis on rural communities, which is very good for Beaufort County.

“Eastern North Carolina has not reached its full potential, but it can with leadership, attention and support. I get it. There’s nothing like home.”

Well said Madam Secretary. Hopefully, we’ll see you shopping downtown soon.