Crisis point for Rowan

  • Posted: Saturday, December 7, 2013 9:21 p.m.

Communities pull together in times of crisis. A major employer closes, fire takes precious lives, an ice storm knocks out power. When calamity strikes, people put aside ideological and political differences and focus on the most immediate need — survival.

Rowan County is in the midst of such a calamity. In rural and municipal areas, our economy has been slower to recover from the recession than most, and poverty continues to spread. There’s a bright spot on the horizon: Hiring has begun at Gildan Yarns, which will employ hundreds eventually. But with more than 6,000 people on unemployment — and untold others whose benefits have run out — Rowan needs many more bright spots.

As in other small towns, Salisbury’s situation is precarious. The most recent American Community Survey shows 20.5 percent of the city’s population living below the poverty level, compared to 16.9 percent countywide. Some 30 percent of the city’s children younger than 18 are growing up in poverty.

Now for the good news. Rowan and Salisbury sit on the prosperous I-85 crescent, a chain of metropolitan areas which demographers predict will grow into one megalopolis stretching from the Triangle to Charlotte by 2050. The state is becoming increasingly urbanized, while its rural areas are in decline, according to a recent housing study by Carolina Demography, part of the Carolina Population Center.. Starting in 2000, more people in the state lived in incorporated areas than rural ones, and that shift is accelerating. Now more than ever, young people are drawn to the jobs and vibrancy of cities like Charlotte and Raleigh,

Rowan and its towns are in a limbo of sorts — not growing but still positioned geographically to be in line for growth. On the demographers’ map of winners and losers in housing growth, Rowan has a question mark beside its name. In the chain of communities stretching from Raleigh to Charlotte, this area could be a strong point — or a weak link.

The point is, neither city nor county nor town nor crossroads can afford to let the current trend of economic deterioration continue. Unemployment and poverty didn’t hit all at once like a hurricane, but crisis time is here.

What’s the answer? We wish we knew. Job No. 1 is education; children reared in poverty are cursed if they also grow up ignorant, unskilled and without hope. One other certainty: Bickering and stonewalling get us nowhere. Imagine what could happen if the leadership of the county, city, schools and other major organizations worked as a team, striving for the same goals. They have a lot of common ground — about 511 square miles. We all do.

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