On Sept. 10, I attended a breakfast hosted by former House Rep. Jim Crawford. This breakfast was the second he had invited me to around regional growth and development, and recruitment and retention of young professionals. I was accompanied by a small group from Warren County consisting of Ken Bowman, director of Economic Development; Crystal Smith, director of Warren County Cooperative Extension; and Emily Shaw, director of Adult Services/Genealogy and Technology at Warren County Memorial Library. The speaker was Tom White, N.C. State's director of Economic Development Partnership.
At this breakfast I learned about an online tool from the Department of Commerce Labor and Economic Analysis Division called Workforce In-Depth; I was excited to get home and learn a little more about Warren County. The tool allows a user to search by county, Workforce Development Board, or Economic Development Region, and users can look up reports on: Employment Status, Industry Structure, Per Capita Personal Income, Population Estimates and Density, Largest Employers, etc.
I was particularly interested in looking up Commuting Patterns for Warren County. The lack of jobs in the county is a common part of our narrative on economic growth and development. Of the 20,972 people (workers and non-workers) we have living in the county as of 2012, 8,528 workers commute out of Warren County as of July 2013.
This isn't a column about industry and workforce development to try and keep skilled workers in the county, but rather a column questioning what else we lose as a county when our workers travel outside county lines to work. When we think about small business and the economic health of our rural community, we have to think about what motivates consumers and dictates their spending patterns. Think about your own purchasing patterns, or those of your friends and family. How close do you shop to your place of employment, or go to the gym, or go out to eat, or socialize? How many times have you or someone you know chosen to buy items at Walmart or Harris Teeter near your out-of-county job? I do it, too. I have a list of items that I regularly save up to purchase when I go out of town. We do this out of convenience, necessity (I simply can't satisfy all my needs within Warren County), or cost benefit. Sometimes we have to buy out of the county, and sometimes we choose to.
In these two breakfasts hosted by Jim Crawford, I have had the same question -- we celebrate Warren County's geographic proximity to urban areas often, but how does it actually hurt us? Warren County is included in the Research Triangle Regional Partnership and I-85 corridor because of its location. As a member of Warren County's Tourism Committee, we often talk about the convenience of Warren County's location to urban areas as being a selling point for day-trips or weekend excursions to our county. But how often does this geographic proximity influence money to leave the county?
I have a weekly WARR 1520 AM program where I mainly talk about happenings and events among Chamber members; I often challenge listeners to "find something new to do in Warren County this weekend." I want to issue that challenge to readers, and extend it to include this — make a list of all the things you buy out of the county, pick one or two items, and start making an effort to buy them here. We all know there will be some needs we just can't satisfy in the county, but let's start figuring out what we can do.