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First in Future: The N.C. Rural Center President Patrick Woodie


In the late 1990’s, I worked on a project called the North Carolina Rural Prosperity Task Force. The idea was to develop a series of recommendations that could make a meaningful difference for rural North Carolina. At the time, the state had just passed a threshold where more than 50% of the state lived in just 15 of our 100 counties. The fear was that rural areas, and rural people, would get left behind. The recommendations of the Task Force made some difference, most notably in getting high-speed internet to more places and making more people aware of the challenge – but the trends have continued. In the past six years, 41% of North Carolina municipalities – almost all in rural North Carolina – have lost population. And people have noticed. As the Institute for Emerging Issues has been asking people about the big issues they are concerned about, and as I have talked to people for the podcast, I’ve been hammered over the head at how many people say their number one concern is for rural North Carolina. There’s nobody in the state who thinks more about that than Patrick Woodie, President of the N.C. Rural Center. I think you’ll find him optimistic. We talked about rural North Carolina’s struggles in recovering from Hurricane Matthew, the new generation of rural leaders, the importance of entrepreneurship, and why he thinks calling what’s going on a rural-urban divide is just plain dumb.

This installment of First in Future is part of a special TV series produced in collaboration with UNC-TV, and recorded in UNC-TV’s Legislative Studio in downtown Raleigh. Taped segments will air on the North Carolina Channel. Visit for specific air dates. Watch the UNC-TV broadcast version via online streaming here!

Excerpts:  “The answer’s going to be different from one rural county to another and one region to another, but it’s really about helping those rural communities and the regions that they’re in articulate what their assets are, and develop a vision for building that rural economy.”

Book recommendations:  But What About the People by Terry Sanford

What key issues should we be working on within the next couple of years to make North Carolina a better place?   Infrastructure

What do we need to focus on to be ready for the next 20 years?    Building a world-class workforce; modernizing education systems.

Next great North Carolinian to watch?  Noran Sanford, Growing Change

Listen to the podcast: