Building a Globally Competitive South

Nov 18, 2011

Twenty-five years ago – pivotal reports were released focusing on major issues confronting the South.  They found that despite improvements in the high school and college graduation rates and technological advances, the South still lingered behind other regions.  A report released yesterday by U-N-C’s Global Research Institute sets out to follow-up on the Southern agenda and makes recommendations to improve national AND global competitiveness. 

The new report by U-N-C’s Global Research Institute is titled – “A Way Forward: Building a Globally Competitive South.”
Peter Coclanis is a distinguished professor of History at Carolina and director of the Global Research Institute.

Peter Coclanis:  "The South has made such incredible progress over the last 50 years, but in many ways, the progress for the region as a whole has kind of stalled a bit over the last couple of decades."

Scholars and policy-makers began to figure this out.  Twenty-five years ago – the Southern Growth Policies Board issued a report to help set an agenda for building public-private partnerships to help cut poverty and unemployment.  The report was called “Halfway Home and a Long Way to Go.”

Thomas Ross:  "If we’re going to get the rest of the way home, each of us must embrace new ways of thinking and doing and we must make the commitment together."

Thomas Ross is President of the 16-campus U-N-C System.  He took part in a forum yesterday at the SAS World Headquarters in Cary.  The forum coincided with the release of the report, “Building a Globally Competitive South.”  James Owens is the former C-E-O and Board Chairman of Caterpillar.  He told the crowd – there has always been globalization – but the key these days is the speed and pace of change.  Owens says at a time when we’re strapped by high unemployment and slow growth, the U-S should open its arms to multi-national companies.

James Owens:  "You know, quite frankly, I think a worker in a Toyota plant is just about as happy as one in a GM plant.  And he doesn’t care much where the stockholders reside, if he has a good job."

Owens says Caterpillar has 10 facilities and 35-hundred workers in North Carolina – thousands more around the world.  But the company has decided to bring one-thousand jobs back to the east coast from Japan.  Owens says they have the jobs – but will they find the workers – a common chorus in the South.

James Owens:  "I just asked this question to my former colleagues, is this true in NC, I know it’s true nationally. Over 40-percent don’t pass our test and this would be for entry-level production jobs. And that’s because of either they can’t pass high school math standards or they don’t pass the drug test. And that’s a fairly sad commentary, that high a rejection rate."

This is not surprising to U-N-C Professor Daniel Gitterman – one of the editors of “A Way Forward: Building a Globally Competitive South.”

Daniel Gitterman:  "Overall our state still ranks 37th out of 50 in terms of high school education attainment.  In terms of those in our state who have obtained a Bachelors Degree, we stand at 26 percent, which puts us 26th nationally. In terms of the graduate degree, nine percent of our fellow citizens, probably most of them on the SAS campus, which puts us at 31st place."

But if you include citizens who have completed “some” college – North Carolina ranks higher on the scale – the community college system getting a lot of the credit.  “Building a Globally Competitive South” has three main themes as a way to move forward.  They include Smart Investment in the state’s labor force, growth through Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and overcoming historical constraints that the editors of the report say have impeded the South’s progress.  Charlie Nelms is chancellor of North Carolina Central University.  His essay in the report is titled: “The Unique Role of Southern Historically Black Colleges and Universities in Economic Development.

Charlie Nelms: " May I, may I just make one comment.  North Carolina nor the United States can be competitive by leaving a third to 40 to 50-percent of its citizens behind.  (applause) It just can’t be."

And without more measures to help those citizens, the next report in 25 years could look much the same.