08/09/05 — Deprived: East’s economy needs more attention in Raleigh

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Deprived: East’s economy needs more attention in Raleigh

In its base-closing proposals this spring, the Pentagon treated eastern North Carolina with considerably more sympathy than it usually gets from its own Legislature.

Take roads, for instance. While highway construction proceeds apace in the Piedmont, the eastern district that includes Wayne County is told that it has already overspent its highway allowance. When you look around, you see little evidence of what was done with it, but years will pass before Father Raleigh replenishes the kitty.

Transportation is a key to economic development. Everybody knows that. Lousy roads are the main reason that the Global TransPark has borne fruit much slower than had been hoped.

To keep the East from withering away completely, we are told that some roads might be built as toll roads. That way some of our needs could be filled with no cost to the taxpayers in the Piedmont, except the Piedmonters who wish to visit the beaches. They could do so more conveniently and with a minimum of interaction with the unwashed Easterners along the way.

But, for the good of all of North Carolina, the East needs to become more than just pass-through territory. They say a rising tide raises all ships. Likewise, an ebb tide can ground them. A listless economy in any region is felt statewide.

And speaking of ships, there is a strong argument that the development of the ports at Morehead City and Wilmington is essential to the economy of the East and to the state as a whole.

A champion of port development — and to the building of ancillary facilities to accommodate shipping — is Earl Brinkley Sr. of Wallace. Brinkley retired as director of international logistics for the John Deere company, a job in which he learned that his firm could not use North Carolina ports even to ship products from its North Carolina plant.

Incidentally, one of the ancillary facilities that Brinkley envisions would be a trucking, rail and shipping terminal near Goldsboro, which is the junction of railroads from Wilmington and Morehead City and convenient to two Interstate highways.

Brinkley bemoans the fact that ports in Virginia and South Carolina are getting millions of tons of shipping and creating thousands of jobs while North Carolina’s ports sit comparatively idle. The Tar Heel ports are blessed with more natural advantages like depth and proximity to the open sea. But they are largely ignored by shippers, partly because the ports are not sufficiently equipped for containerized shipping, and partly because of — guess what — poor roads leading to the ports.

Brinkley has presented his ideas to several civic clubs in Goldsboro. They deserve consideration at the highest levels of state government.

Meanwhile, thank heaven for the military. According to a study by an East Carolina University economist, the bases in the East add more than $18 billion a year to our economy.

Without investment of state money, of course.

Published in Editorials on August 9, 2005 12:49 PM