First Posted: 1/15/2009
LUMBERTON - Robeson County residents are making history today, joining together to take their concerns and suggestions for improving the local economy directly to Washington, D.C.
About 150 people left Lumberton on buses in the early morning hours to present a report on how more than $700 million in income and business taxes - along with 18,345 jobs - have been lost in Robeson County because of disappearing manufacturing companies. The group will also give suggestions to members of Congress on how to save rural America.
The Center for Community Action organized the trip, during which 11 people will speak before the Congressional Rural Caucus at its Forum on Job Losses and Economic Decline in Rural America. U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre of Lumberton is a co-chairman of the Rural Caucus Task Force. Among those making the trip this morning were laid-off textile workers, community activists, businessmen, students and university professors.
“No other county has used this strategy,” said the Rev. Mac Legerton, executive director of the Center for Community Action. “It shows how deeply concerned we are. The voice of rural America has not been heard on job loss and trade policy.”
Legerton and his group have cause for concern, according to their report, which they worked on for two years.
Robeson County has lost more than $713 million in job income and business taxes between 1993 and 2003 as a result of losing 8,708 manufacturing jobs, according to the report. Those job losses resulted in an actual total of 18,345 jobs lost through a ripple effect, according to the report.
The report was put together by sociologist Leslie Hossfeld of The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, Legerton and consultant Jerry Kuester.
“The impact of the job losses on our county are similar to impacts caused by natural disasters and human policies and conflicts around the world,” Legerton said. “Our own nation will take $40 billion to rebuild a foreign country, but they won't take the same amount of money to rebuild areas in our own nation that have been significantly devastated by causes outside their control and directly related to policy decisions on the federal level.”
The group's plan, called the Jobs for the Future project, calls for expanded investments and federal support for small rural businesses, a major program of relief and reconstruction for affected rural communities that combines $10 million in government and $10 million in private and corporate investments, better collection of job loss data in rural areas and more civil service employment to improve rural infrastructures.
Legerton said the key to finding solutions will be support from both sides of the aisle in Congress.
“We're not emphasizing the cause, but solutions that will require bipartisan support,” he said. “Republicans emphasize investing in the private sector, but normally a lot of the investment ends up in the systems of larger corporations, in urban areas, rather than small businesses. Democrats emphasize public works projects. The government runs them, but they do put people back to work. We want to put people back to work in the private sector with jobs that won't end when the grant money ends.”
After speaking in the Longworth House Office, the group will walk to the steps of the Capitol and take pictures with McIntyre before heading back home. The buses are expected to return around midnight tonight.
But there's not much rest for the group after that.
On Thursday, the report will be presented again, this time to the N.C. Joint Select Committee on Growth and Economic Development in Raleigh. Then, the group will continue to work on a more extensive research report, which will be released in October, when the Center for Community Action is planning to hold the National Conference on Job Loss and Recovery at the Southeastern Regional Agricultural Center/Farmers Market.