Friday, November 22, 2013

The power of metros to N.C.'s economy

Dan Barkin, a senior editor at Raleigh's News & Observer, on Wednesday posted an eye-opening statistic about North Carolina's economy on "The Editor's Blog," which he shares with other top editors at the N&O newsroom.

In "Metros dominate NC economy," he writes that the seven largest metro areas generate nearly 70 percent of the state's economy.  The Charlotte metro area alone is responsible for a quarter of the state's economy. The Triangle (Barkin added together Raleigh-Cary and Durham MSAs) tally 22 percent.  That means, he points out, that Charlotte and the Triangle are nearly half the state's economy.

A few things to note: First, the so-called urban/rural split in the state is a lot squishier than it may seem. Those "metro areas" (a.k.a. Metropolitan Statistical Areas) tend to include places that to most people would seem rural, and in some cases they're bizarrely drawn. Examples: Marshville in eastern Union County,or Cat Square in Lincoln County. The counties are in Charlotte's Metropolitan Statistical Area, but some of the smaller communities don't feel very
urban.

Second, the statistics raise the question of how best to help the state's struggling rural areas. If their economies are sinking, what's the best way to help them? Does pulling power and resources from the areas where the economy is healthier work? Can they be more closely tied to the metro areas, through linkages of commerce, transportation and education? If the economy in an area is dying, when should you apply CPR or a feeding tube, and when (if ever?) do you remove the feeding tube and the heart-lung machines?

I don't have the answers and I'm not sure anyone does. And a community that's hurting is, of course, different from a patient in a hospital. But one answer that the data do appear to point to is that policies that damage North Carolina's urban areas will likely be damaging a massive chunk of the whole state's economic health. 

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