The conference “Energizing Rural North Carolina: The Building Blocks of Successful Economic Development,” will explore how infrastructure, workforce, education, health, and leadership—the five building blocks—shape economic outcomes in rural communities, according to the event organizers from the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC). The conference takes place Thursday and Friday in Pinehurst.

This is the fourth  of a multi-part story previewing the conference and key issues.

Health and leadership

“These building blocks relate to economic development,” said Mike Hawkins, Transylvania County Commissioner and EDPNC board member. “They will alter the current paradigms.”

Consider public health, which is rarely thought of as an economic development issue, said Hawkins. When a county, especially a rural county, can improve public health measures, that translates into more of the workforce participating more actively in the region’s economic growth, said Hawkins.

As public health efforts result in increased health and wellness for individuals, said Hawkins, those individuals will take less sick time, be more productive, be happier and more connected to local businesses and local communities, be more engaged, and be more likely to volunteer for an organization of citizen group. They also may be more likely or encouraged to take a leadership position in the community.

“And leadership in rural North Carolina is a huge issue,” said Hawkins. “Not just elected leaders, but civic leaders, business leaders, faith leaders, nonprofit leaders, all across the board.” In rural counties, communities are experiencing a number of challenges, almost all of the things that urban counties encounter, and many that urban counties do not encounter, and those counties are often asked to solve these challenges with less human resources, with less talent, said Hawkins.

That’s why leadership is a key component to building prosperous rural communities, said Hawkins, and it’s why they elected to focus on leadership as one of the five building blocks.

Rural counties need to be systematic in developing leadership pathways, said Hawkins, where new leaders can be identified, informed, educated, and trained to become leaders in their region—and involved and invested enough in the community so they choose to stay rather than to leave.

“We must continually have a pipeline of engaged, enthusiastic citizens who have the ability, energy, and time to take a leadership role in the community,” said Hawkins, because that leadership will drive all of the other building blocks. “If you don’t have leaders, you’re not going to get much done.”

That’s why EDPNC plans to gather rural economic developers and community leaders at the “Energizing Rural North Carolina: The Building Blocks of Successful Economic Development” convening on July 12–13 in Pinehurst, said  Frank Emory, Jr., chairman of the EDPNC board of directors.

“I am encouraged now that the act of getting stakeholders and thought-leaders in the same room at the same time,” he added. “We will generate new ideas, confirm best practices, and analyze what might work in each rural county to boost economic development.”