RALEIGH – Next week, the North Carolina Rural Center is hosting government representatives, public and private sector leaders, and community organizers for a day of discussion on key issues facing rural communities.

Rural Day 2019 highlights successful initiatives taking place in other states regarding broadband access, healthcare coverage expansion and small business development. Using these use cases, the NC Rural Center hopes to build collaboration between North Carolina’s metros and neighboring rural counties on achieving the same goals.

The event takes place next Tuesday at the Raleigh Convention Center, marking the third annual Rural Day program by the NC Rural Center. Organizers expect a turnout of around 600 attendees from at least 82 counties—far exceeding attendance counts from previous years, up from a turnout of 450 people in 2018 and 300 in 2017.

Rural Day includes keynotes and presentations from a balance of national and local leaders. NC Rural Center Director of Advocacy John Coggin says that the purpose of including more national speakers in this year’s program is to give insight into the proven practices of other regions.

“The top question we get from legislators is: what are they doing in other states? These national leaders will provide our advocates with an overview of what is happening around the nation that we can apply to policy work here in North Carolina,” Coggin said.

Rural Day kicks off March 26 with opening remarks from NC Governor Roy Cooper, followed by a virtual address from Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest.

Mignon Clyburn, former commissioner of the Federal Communications Committee, will deliver a keynote about broadband access. John Kasich, former governor of Ohio and current CNN commentator, will then discuss closing the health insurance coverage gap, sharing how expanding Medicaid in Ohio helped curb the opioid crisis and support rural economic development.

National Rural Health Association CEO Alan Morgan will discuss rural health access from a national perspective. Katherine Bates, manager of state and local partnerships for the National Telecommunications and Information Association, will share details about broadband access and adoption taking shape in other regions.

After lunch, there will be sessions with state legislative leaders of both Republican and Democratic parties, including Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, House Speaker Tim Moore, Senate Democratic Leader Dan Blue and House Deputy Democratic Leader Robert Reives. John Lock Foundation President John Hood and NC Electric Cooperatives COO Nelle Hotchkiss will moderate the discussion.

Following will be a series of breakout sessions covering broadband, health, small business and faith-based advocacy. In these sessions, attendees will hear from a diverse lineup of rural and urban leaders across North Carolina—including legislators, executives at companies and organizations operating in these sectors, and panels with other representatives. Each will feature local stories of note in these initiatives and in-depth discussions on challenges and opportunities.

Outlined above, the ‘Rural Counts Advocacy Priorities’ provide a direction of focus for the NC Rural Center’s efforts in the coming year.

The choice of topics for Rural Day 2019 is based on the Rural Center’s three advocacy priorities for the year—broadband, healthcare and business development.

These priorities are informed by the Rural Center’s conversations with both rural advocates and state policy-makers over the past three years.

The advocacy program started in 2016 with a year-long road trip traveling 8,457 miles and hosting local listening sessions with leaders of all 80 rural counties in North Carolina. Coggin says that during those listening sessions, broadband, health and small business development consistently rose to the top as issues the Center needed to address.

The Rural Center’s specific legislative goals involve closing the healthcare coverage gap in North Carolina, expanding the GREAT (Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology) grant program for rural broadband and helping to clarify local governments’ roles in partnering with private internet service providers to broaden access.

“We also hope we can make progress in balancing state economic development efforts,” Coggin adds. “Most of the state’s jobs are actually created by new or existing businesses. Seventy-five percent of rural NC businesses have fewer than 10 employees. It’s time we did a better job as a state in supporting our small businesses and encouraging more people to start their own businesses.”

The Rural Center believes that improving these areas will also yield significant economic and workforce development among rural communities.

“Our hope is that Rural Day will help bring the state’s rural advocates together to speak with a common voice about their vision for our rural communities,” Coggin said. “Speaking together, we can accomplish big goals, like closing the health insurance coverage gap and expanding broadband infrastructure to the last mile.”

Registration for the event is currently over capacity, but anyone interested in attending can still grab a spot on the wait list, available here. Tickets are priced at $60, covering both the main event and reception. Separate tickets are available at $30 for the main event and $40 for reception.