In less than a month, North Carolinians will cast their votes on whether or not the state should invest in its future. Connect NC seeks to upgrade water and wastewater infrastructure, improve state parks, modernize National Guard outposts and agricultural research facilities, and construct and renovate instructional buildings at our colleges and universities.
North Carolina’s Southeast Regional Economic Development Partnership believes Connect NC marks an historic opportunity to advance North Carolina’s business growth and job creation capacity. The $2.1 billion package is an exciting chance to invest in our state’s economy and workforce in a way that will yield measurable dividends across coming generations.
The Connect NC bond allocates $1.3 billion -- some 66% -- of the bonds to universities and community colleges, including those across the Southeast Region. Southeastern Community College, for example, stands to benefit from nearly $7 million in renovations and repairs. UNC Wilmington will gain a $66 million facility to house its health, human services and nursing curricular programs. Connect NC distributes comparable sums to UNC Pembroke, Fayetteville State University and the other 13 community colleges that educate and train current and future workers in Southeastern North Carolina.
Part of the bond proposal would fund STEM oriented instructional buildings because most capital projects at our university and community college campuses can’t be funded from operating budgets without adversely impacting students. Connect NC embraces those opportunities in a way that is fair as well as fiscally sound.
Our economic infrastructure will also stand to benefit from Connect NC. The package includes $309 million for new water and wastewater systems, which remain critical for business growth and economic investment. Such assets provide the lifeblood for consumer foods and beverage manufacturers, a key industry across the Southeast region. On top of that, agricultural research facilities will receive $179 in new funds, which will further energize 21st century farming and ag-biotech in our region and beyond.
Another key industry in the Southeast – defense and homeland security-related enterprises – will get a boost via the $79 million in funding Connect NC allocates for upgrades to National Guard facilities.
Our state parks will also get a much-needed facelift courtesy of Connect NC. These are vitally important quality-of-life assets that North Carolina families and individuals, as well as tourists, can all enjoy. They preserve our state’s natural beauty and are among the reasons gifted people from around the world have chosen to move to North Carolina to start careers, businesses, families and lives. State parks at Fort Fisher, Lake Waccamaw, Lumber River and Carolina Beach should get about $6 million in upgrades among them.
Our state’s rapid population growth has produced noticeable infrastructure needs in every region. It’s been more than 15 years since North Carolina last issued voter-approved bonds to update the state’s infrastructure. Since then, our population has surged by two million – roughly equal to the population of Houston, Texas or all of New Mexico. North Carolina is now the 9th most populous state in the U.S. and has the 9th largest gross domestic product (GDP).
With interest rates at rock-bottom levels, there’s never been a more opportune time to borrow. Economists tell us the package will not trigger a tax increase or downgrades to North Carolina’s sterling credit ratings.
North Carolina and its economy are clearly in the big leagues now. We must be honest about what it’s going to take for us to stay there – and invest boldly in our future.
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