Two States

The Commerce Department has just announced an agreement to pay MetLife $94 million – a record ‘incentive’ – to create 2,600 jobs in Charlotte and Cary. 2,600 jobs is no small achievement. But there is a subtle irony at work here too: Because these jobs are going to the two places in North Carolina that need jobs least. Charlotte and Raleigh-Cary, according to our own Employment Security Division, are now at or over their all-time record employment levels.

North Carolina was once a state of widely dispersed small towns and vibrant local communities. Today, with the evolving economy, we’ve become two states. Our two largest metropolitan areas are racing ahead to see who can become the next Atlanta – while, at the same time, the rest of the state is languishing, losing jobs (as the accompanying chart shows).

The tremendous growth in Raleigh and Charlotte is no accident. In part it is due to 21st Century economic trends. But it is also a direct result of state policies.

Every day in Raleigh bills cross my desk with the unmentioned and often unnoticed effect of transferring money and power from smaller communities to larger ones – and the latest incentive package is just a recent example.

Living outside the two major metropolitan areas, I have seen firsthand the consequences of the job exodus from small towns. The challenges facing communities like ours are obvious. And now it’s time to step back and have a serious public conversation about these policies.

Living in a fast-growing, vibrant metropolitan area has its appeals. But I would argue small towns have a unique charm of their own and a unique quality of life that, in many ways, is preferable to modern suburban sprawl.

After all, millions of North Carolinians live in small towns and communities – if they wanted to live in Atlanta, they would have moved there.

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