COLUMBUS COUNTY, NC (WECT) - Taking local problems straight to the top. That’s what leaders in Columbus County did Wednesday, meeting with leaders from the governor’s office. It’s part of a program called Hometown Strong where state leaders cater to counties considered economically distressed.
According to Susi Hamilton, Secretary of Natural and Cultural Resources for the state, 80 of North Carolina’s 100 counties are considered economically distressed. This means the county’s median income, overall health and education are on the lower end.
“The number one issue that faces North Carolina’s economy is this divide between rural and urban communities and we need to do whatever we can, and this administration is committed to improving the quality of life and the economies of the rural areas," Hamilton said.
“We believe, as a state government, this is the best way we can do that by bringing all of those resources together in one location locally to the people,” Hamilton said.
Cabinet secretaries said Governor Roy Cooper started Hometown Strong last year. The secretaries travel to each county and ask leaders there what they can do to help them.
“Bringing those folks into the local community, we hear exactly what the community’s needs are and we try to plug in how state government can help,” Hamilton said.
“The idea behind Hometown Strong is to really break down those silo’s between departments and agencies within state government and force us to communicate with each other and then bring those services to the local level,” she said.
Leaders in Columbus County told state leaders they need help with Hurricane Florence recovery, infrastructure upgrades and revitalizing the county overall. Hamilton said across the 80 counties, the most common problems are public health, Internet accessibility, infrastructure and education.
After hearing the concerns, the state leaders look at what state programs and grants exist, and then help counties take advantage of them. Local leaders said they feel like the area’s problems are being taken seriously when they see the state leaders face to face in their community.
“To be able to get out to go see the communities and bring their representatives into the communities, I think that speaks volumes, and not just stay in Raleigh, you get out to where the rubber meets the road," Whiteville City Manager Darren Currie said.
State leaders will come back to Columbus County in a few weeks about opportunities for the area. They said hurricane recovery concerns will take a little longer, though, calling that process “overwhelming.”
Columbus County was the thirteenth visit for the program. Secretaries also stopped in Bladen County.