The whole focus of public accountability and local pride came to mind as I traveled up to the Blue Ridge Mountains in Western North Carolina recently to see the leaves change. Now I do admit a bit of favorable prejudice towards the Tar Heel State, having graduated from Chapel Hill back in the 60s. And 50 years ago, many observers linked North Carolina and Louisiana as the two southern states with the greatest potential for economic growth and a higher quality of life in the South.
Both states had a strong agricultural base, with tobacco being king in Carolina and both cotton and sugar cane offering farmers a good living in Louisiana. It was textiles in Carolina and oil in Louisiana. There were two great university presses in the South – one at Chapel Hill and the other in Baton Rouge, with major American literary figures concentrated around the two state universities.
But an economic downturn hit both states in the late 70s. North Carolina quickly diversified and centered its future economic development on an innovative research triangle that attracted startup businesses from all over the nation. High oil prices enticed Louisiana to keep the status quo. And things haven’t changed much since then.
Several Louisiana cities have recently sent groups of business leaders and public officials around the country to observe what seems to be working in other cities. They would do well to make a pilgrimage to Charlotte. If they do, here is what they will find.
One of the first things you notice is the cleanliness, not just in Charlotte, but throughout much of the state. By and large, you just don’t see the litter that seems to cover Louisiana.
Several years ago, a Louisiana state senator was a guest on my national radio show. He told the story of his efforts to bring a Japanese automobile plant to Northeast Louisiana. The Senator had picked up the Japanese officials in Shreveport and drove them to the proposed plant site some 20 miles east of Monroe. The Louisiana group made what they thought was a first-rate presentation, but the Japanese decided to go elsewhere. When he followed up the visit to find out why Louisiana was turned down, the Senator was given two reasons. First was the lack of a trained workforce. But just as important was the litter along highways. He was told: “Your people do not seem to take much pride in keeping their state clean.”
A brand-new monorail system has just opened in downtown Charlotte linking all the major hotels to the convention center. Inner city congestion has been greatly reduced and I found it to be a quick and easy way to travel from my hotel to the sports arena. This is an idea well worth considering for New Orleans.
Charlotte and other North Carolina cities are being wired. Even midsize cities like Winston Salem are installing wireless broadband networks. As one city official told me, “We are trying to differentiate our North Carolina cities from other locations as we are competing for knowledge-based companies. If your city is not wired, you’re just not going to be competitive.” As has been written here in several recent columns, Internet access, particularly for students statewide, could be the single biggest asset towards moving Louisiana’s lackluster educational system giant steps forward.
The bottom line is that in setting out an agenda for a better future for Louisiana, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. There are a number of progressive ideas emanating from cities and states all over the country. Many of these ideas will require a major financial investment. But others, like keeping our roadways clean, are simply a matter of instilling a sense of personal responsibility. That’s where pride begins.
“When you look at a state, it’s like reading the hopes, aspirations and pride of everyone who built it.”
- Hugh Newell Jacobsen
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.