Matthew is North Carolina’s Katrina

Before this story becomes a brief memory of the past and the media is focused on the next big event, I want to tell you what is going on in Eastern North Carolina in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. It’s amazing how troubled times can bring communities together and that is occurring now.

Over the first few days operating on generators and eating canned food I have opened my eyes to a new reality. I never knew what it was like to be stranded on an island with limited resources and plenty of time. We are learning there are several islands in Eastern NC as I write this article. Sometimes we all feel as though we’re stuck in the mud on an island with nowhere to turn and nobody to listen. Time usually flies but it seems to creep in times of trouble and we become crippled with the inability to operate a normal life such as: Going to work, appointments, check-ups, shopping and other things we do daily become obsolete.

For too many of our fellow citizens young and old, this is everyday life.

I appreciate all the hard work of the linemen trying to get power to our communities, the Emergency/Department of Transportation workers, local law enforcement workers and many volunteers that have made this situation a lot safer.

I have met people who relocated because of the storm from outlying areas, some fromSouth Carolina who came to Bladen County or outlying areas to escape the storm not knowing they had simply run head with same storm and worst problems in unfamiliar surroundings. Matthew has impacted North Carolina — especially Southeastern NC — more than most projected and even more than Hurricane Floyd in 1999. The impact on our communities and towns will not be known for weeks to come.

There are more components that have not become reality at this point in time being just a handful of days after the storm and more than one-third of the state having been affected by all the rain from this monstrous storm. I would estimate the damages from this catastrophe to be greater than Hurricane Floyd and probably topping the double digit Billions. Each day we hear of new regrettable deaths most due to flooding.

As most of us in rural America knows, it’s always good to have a back-up plan. It’s important for us to always have vision and plan for the unexpected surprises that may come later. Many were caught off guard on this storm because Southeastern NC has not seen this much water since the 1940s, a time when many of us had not yet been born. I have heard many talk of Hurricane Hazel, but Hurricane Matthew will leave a scar on Eastern NC like none can imagine. Not many of the towns being flooded have ever suffered such a catastrophic event and it will take many months to recover.

Over the next few days or weeks let’s focus on lifting up our communities and each other in ways that we can rebuild a stronger more prosperous Eastern NC. We have so much potential in this part of the state for economic growth that we could employee thousands of our citizens on jobs with stability. Don’t let our dreams and goals get wash out to sea to be forgotten. It will be the most admirable accomplishment for our generations here today to build a future for the generations that follow. Give them something which to aspire to that can sail them into an ocean of opportunities right here at “Home” in Eastern NC.

Unlike the flood waters job opportunities remain a trickle in a dried up economic creek. I continue to hear the Presidential Candidates through state/federal hopefuls and larger area cities economic developers all talking about bringing jobs. This is followed by we must recruit, recruit new business. This is why we are getting nowhere. This ignores the fact that similar rural areas and rust belt cities throughout U.S. are promoting the same thing; and getting the same results- nothing.

It is my hope that they will soon wake up to the fact that the potential for the desired jobs exist in our own back yard. They are in the form of concepts, innovations and inventions. When I campaigned among the people, it is just amazing the number of people who wish to discuss their ideas and potential products. I only had time for a few notes and lacked funding to pursue these worthwhile prospects. They are so many out there waiting to be heard and assisted in making these a reality from which will come the thousands of jobs needed.

The next time you read an article or hear an “economic developer” talking about plans to start a recruiting campaign, you might suggest they start right where they are; among the people they hope to benefit. Additionally, just ask around casual acquaintances and friends; “have you ever thought of any new product, service or better way of doing something.” Whether low tech or highly complex, you will be amazed of the things that already exist ready for incubation through completion.

This is the reality of job development; this is performance not continued promise or wishful thinking.

Arthur Rich is a native of Garland, graduate of East Carolina University and former Republican candidate for lieutenant governor and U.S. Congress from District 1.
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