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Shadows slow South’s boom

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Home to thriving communities as well as isolated backwaters, the South needs comprehensive and innovative strategies to spur economic growth, generate tax revenue and produce civic leaders, a new report says.

The strategies, which should be collaborative and focus on competitiveness and equity, are needed to revive rural and urban communities alike that lack any competitive advantages in the global economy, says the report by MDC Inc., a Chapel Hill group that studies economic and workforce development.

Despite big gains in some rural and urban communities, others are stumbling, says the report, “The State of the South 2002,” which follows previous updates on a 1986 MDC report, “Shadows in the Sunbelt.”

The report paints a picture of a deeply fragmented and uneven South, with the New Economy driving economic growth in some communities in rural and urban areas alike while tripping up others, leaving them far behind.

“In effect there are two rural Souths, one enjoying the fruits and enduring the stresses of unprecedented growth, the other engulfed in darkening shadows,” the report says.

“There are two, or more, metropolitan Souths,” it says. “Some Southern metropolitan areas have become genuine new-economy cities, pulsing with knowledge workers. In other metro areas – including several of the most distinctly Southern cities — growth and adaptation to the new economy have come much slower.”

The new report calls for:

* Giving state economic-development agencies a broader, more strategic focus that measures success not just in new jobs but also in higher incomes and competitiveness.

* Revamping tax systems to support education, job-training, community resources and “infrastructure” such as roads and technology.

* Tying industrial incentives to performance, and replacing incentive-driven recruitment with comprehensive economic-development strategies.

* Boosting rural communities through regional collaboration and ties to urban communities.

* Creating policies to sustain growth in thriving metropolitan areas.

* Stepping up efforts to end big gaps in education throughout the South, and to strengthen the education, health and well-being of children from birth to age five.

* Harnessing the power of universities and community colleges to spur state and regional economies.

* Gearing universities, community colleges and nonprofit leaders to prepare public officials to address the region’s challenges, and to foster a new generation of civic leaders at the grassroots.

“Traditional leadership development programs that focus on building a network among a limited representation of the community are not the answer,” the report says. “States, cities, towns and counties require the development of leaders – knowledgeable of trends and issues, representative of all residents, skillful in guiding citizens in a participatory process – to meet the public-policy and human-relations challenges of the 21st Century.”

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