It was great to be back in NC last week. The Regional Center for Economic, Community & Professional Development at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke had me in for their NC Small Town Summit with both my BoomtownUSA and Hometown Entrepreneurs talks featured. In addition, Jim Dittoe of Winning Community, who recently wrote “90 Days to a Winning Community” was also on the program. I wrote the forward for his book which takes the findings of our BoomtownUSA research and puts them into a practical guide of how to implement in your town. Great book!
Regionalism is a concept that is often foreign to many small town leaders. In my talk, I applauded the Regional Center for working to help build regions in the state, despite the natural tendency of many to fight the idea because of what I call the FNL Syndrome. It is unfortunate that the FNL Syndrome, better known as the Friday Night Lights Syndrome causes people to think that because they play each other on Friday Nights, that they can’t possibly get along with those same people on Monday mornings because there is so much more that can be accomplished in rural regions if done regionally.
One of the best long term examples of the success in regionalism is in NC where the Research Triangle, set up in 1959 across many political boundaries, has become a major job generator in the SE. It is an example that is widely studied and being emulated elsewhere.
Pembroke, NC (population 2,399) sits in Robeson County which is bisected by I-95 just north of the SC line. It is the halfway point on the drive from NYC to Miami. The county was historically a major textile, sewing and shoe center but as those industries have moved overseas has been challenged with reinventing itself. The three county region has lost over 20,000 jobs in those industries, including the 4,000 people who made your Converse tennis shoes.
Sylvia Pate, the head of the Regional Center, is developing some wonderful programs to assist the areas hit hardest by these industry dislocations, taking a regional focus. She pointed out some of the challenges in a county like Robeson, “We’ve got seven different Chambers of Commerce and six different school districts.”
The Regional Center has also developed a four module “Certificate Program for Small Town Leadership Development” that includes modules on leadership examples; meeting management; strategic planning and managing projects.
It was a fun, activity filled day back in NC.