Celebrating 35 years of Emerging Issues Forums

35 years ago, our state and our country were facing tough challenges. The AIDS epidemic was still spreading, two years after a promised vaccine. The Cold War was still hot; the US was watching other countries surge ahead in innovation. The explosion of the space shuttle Challenger was shaking our confidence in technology; domestic and international terrorists were shaking our sense of safety; the Iran-Contra affair was shaking our faith in national government.

Into that environment, former NC Governor Jim Hunt and then-NC State Chancellor Bruce Poulton called people from across the state for a heart-to-heart summit of sorts, the first “Emerging Issues Forum.”

Over the past 35 years, at our February forums, we’ve heard from presidents and governors, CEOs and Nobel laureates who are thinking about solutions, AND people on the ground who are doing the work to make progress on the biggest emerging issues we face – from health care to higher ed, from energy to economic mobility, from innovation to the environment.

For the past three years, we’ve been talking about an issue that underpins all of these challenges. If we are going to address our biggest challenges, we need to find a way to connect as never before – across lines of politics, race, geography, economics. We need to find ways to reconnect rural and urban places, build ladders to economic opportunity, strengthen broadband connections for education, work and health, re-energize civic participation, and provide support and connection to those struggling with mental health.

This February, our final forum in the ReCONNECT NC series, will be more ambitious than any previous forum. We will be virtual. We will have events over four days, February 15-18. During that time you’ll hear from national speakers who can challenge us with why we need to reconnect. You’ll hear from us and others about tangible steps we can take to move us closer to reconnection. But we’ll also spend an equal amount of time highlighting community-level heroes who are doing the day-to-day work of reconnecting, hosting a series of “capacity-building” workshops on February 16 and 17.

So much has changed in our state and our world since 1986; these present times are newly and uniquely painful and complex. The throughline is our commitment to look problems in the eye, learn what we need to learn, and then get to work on doing something to make them better. We hope you will join us for ReCONNECT for the Future, our 2021 Emerging Issues Forum.