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Inside View: What Ramps Up the Rural Economy?

Put 500 people in a room to talk about jobs in this economy. Layer on the urgency that rural economic developers feel about creating them for their cities, counties and regions that face unemployment north of 10 percent. 

You have quite a  conference on your hands. 
 
Last week, the North Carolina Rural Center did just that at its Ramping Up the Rural Economy annual meeting. As part of their five tracks for job growth, our president and CEO, Norris Tolson, gave his stump biotech speech, accompanies by a rare-for-him power point presentation. 
 
He tapped into the positive energy in the room as soon as he gave his standard definition of biotechnology - $30-an-hour jobs. 
 
That gets people's attention. 
 
And while developing biotechnology is a long-term effort - we've been at it nearly 30 years - the opportunity now is greater than ever for rural areas to tap into these high-paying, high-impact jobs. 
 
  • The farmer, whose land may be put to use growing grasses for biofuel
  • The student, whose early interest in science could become a job near their hometown in biomanufacturing
  • The small business, whose has more clients because of the job growth in the region.
 
In a way, developing biotechnology either touches or uses each of the Rural Center's five tracks for rural growth: 
 
  • Tried and True Industries - healthcare, education and construction
  • Traditional strengths - agriculture and manufacturing 
  • Emerging Industries - sustainable energy and biotechnology
  • Regional Niches - military, amenity-based development, creative economy
  • Leave no stone unturned - a challenge to create new ideas
 
Biotechnology is a toolbox that has applications to each of those. We need strong education - particularly in science and math - to create the future workforce to hold these jobs. 
 
And, as anyone whose work for Norris Tolson knows, we're always looking for creative new ideas to put together strengths and resources to move North Carolina forward.
 

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