I recently read an article by David Lawder (Reuters) titled “Hometown boy who made good is feted“.The story is about the US Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke returning to his hometown of Dillon, North Carolina … population 6,800. The article describes how Mr. Bernanke taught himself subjects beyond those offered by the local schools, eventually earning degrees from Harvard University and a PhD from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The article goes on to describe the current economic condition of the town; hard hit by the closure of the major textile mills, high unemployment rate, low tax base. The current mayor is quoted as stating that the lack of investment over the recent years in the local schools has left them unable to train “a labor force with the basic skills needed by modern employers”.
How does a town reinvent itself?? If currently they have little to offer employers that offer middle class level pay checks and they are not preparing for the future by properly educating their children, does this town have a future beyond subsistence?? Mr. Bernanke was able to rise above the limitations of their school system, but he also chose to follow a career somewhere else. Is it reasonable to assume that the current generation of school children can emulate his example and will be willing to stay in the town of Dillon?
I do not believe that there are any easy answers. The subject has to be approached as any large, multi-year project is approached.
- What do we wish to accomplish? Economic vitality that offers middle class level employment opportunities to the citizens of the community.
- What are the community’s strengths/ assets?? Location?? Trainable work force?
- What are the community’s weaknesses?? Location?? Trainable work force?
- How do we get from here to there??
I suspect that the path to improved economic vitality is the same as has been used by millions of immigrants to this country for centuries … improved the level of education of the children and if possible the adults.
To quote Mr. Bernanke;
“If the recent gains in productivity growth are to be sustained, ensuring that we have a work force that is comfortable with and adaptable to new technologies will be essential.”
Improvements in productivity are what has given this country the highest standard of living in the world. Unfortunately, we can not rest (since the rest of the world will not), but must continue to seek incremental improvements. Communities such as Dillon that are already behind must evolve at an even faster rate to become and remain competitive in the future.