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Our View: Hometown Strong a boon to rural counties

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Rocky Mount Telegram

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Gov. Roy Cooper certainly must have been drawing upon his Nash County roots last week in announcing a new initiative aimed to help spur economic development in the state’s rural counties.

The governor on Thursday outlined his plans for his new Hometown Strong program, an effort to help match local governments with resources to help fund infrastructure improvements, job training programs, increased access to high-speed internet service and other projects to help spur economic development.

The program will not include any new state funding but will work to identify and draw upon already existing resources from state, federal, nonprofit and philanthropic agencies and organizations. The program aims to cut through bureaucratic red tape to help match these outside resources to local projects and help make sure that efforts aren’t being duplicated.

The initiative will involve a small program team that will confer with local officials about what projects are needed in and feasible for their communities as well as help identify long-term projects that can help improve prospects for improving an area’s future prosperity. They also are to assist local governments with staffing and paperwork issues.

To lead the project, Cooper has tapped former N.C. Rep. Pryor Gibson of Wadesboro and Spring Hope attorney Mary Penny Kelley, a former assistant attorney general with the N.C. Department of Justice. Their mission is to draw upon all the existing programs and resources that are available under the myriad of efforts the state and federal governments and private organizations have instituted over the years to help struggling rural areas achieve a taste of the economic success enjoyed by their urban counterparts.

Lawmakers and state officials have long sought to alleviate this rural-urban divide to varying and sporadic degrees of success. Hometown Strong’s ambitious aim is to bring these different initiatives together under the auspices of one coordinated rural economic development effort.

The initiative is slated to launch this spring in a small group of counties to test what works and what doesn’t and then share those results with other counties that may later choose to participate. 

Cooper says Hometown Strong is meant to make it clear that helping rural North Carolina counties to thrive is a top priority for him and his administration. With his background and this announcement, it certainly appears that it is.

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