Wednesday, October 25, 2017

A legislative retrospective

Outlining a whole list of topics, members of Western North Carolina’s delegation in the NC General Assembly spoke to the business community at the Legislative Wrap-Up on Tuesday, Oct. 24.

Supporting workforce/business needs
“We have a real conundrum in our society – the skills gap,” Senator Chuck Edwards said. “Companies can't find the labor that they need. It crosses industries. Yet, we have people who need jobs and need income.”

Supporting local community colleges and informing higher education of workforce needs can help reduce the skills gap while also removing other barriers to employment.
Representative Brian Turner cited his focus as being on what legislature can do to support working families from addressing education to hunger to domestic violence. 

“If people are secure, they can be more focused on their job,” Turner said.

Senator Terry Van Duyn spoke of the need to renew focus on healthcare to support families throughout North Carolina and the importance of investing in early childhood education.

“We have a crisis with childcare,” Van Duyn said, noting lack of childcare providers, low subsidies and high need from working families for quality childcare.

Representative John Ager expressed disappointment that more had not been done in this session to expand Medicaid, fund education, address environmental issues and more. 

“On positive note, I really like solar bill we passed,” Ager said. “This was nice cooperation between parties that will result in better organized effort to support and encourage solar energy.”

Rural/Urban Divide
In an effort to address rural/urban divide, the legislature has made several attempts to put more money towards rural counties sometimes at the expense of urban counties and
often without a substantive for the money. The Asheville Chamber opposed a proposal to redistribute sales tax that would have been a detriment to Buncombe County. With a ten-county labor shed and significant tourism traffic, Buncombe County faces some unique issues and need to maintain infrastructure beyond the needs of its residents.

“We cannot simply divide up success from urban counties and sprinkle it among the rural counties,” Senator Van Duyn said. “The way we address it is investment in education, broadband, infrastructure. We need to invest in rural areas and connect them to urban areas so we can both prosper.”

Noting bi-partisan agreement on this issue, Senator Edwards reiterated need to revisit the Tier system currently used to allocate funding to counties.  “We have to find what is unique about the rural counties to build their economic base or build transportation that supports access to and from those areas.”

Engaging at the local level
The legislators present all noted a variety of big issues they anticipate the NC General Assembly continuing to engage on in 2018. But, they also encouraged engagement at the local level, citing the work local organizations are doing to address needs in the community and advocating for work with local government to make an impact. 

While both state and federal changes in taxes for small business may be forthcoming, Turner suggested changes in regulations, permitting and processes at a local level can make a real impact on small business finances and ease of doing business. 

“Maybe we can empower communities to make changes that are positive. To do the better job to meet needs of their local constituents.”

The Chamber’s Vice President of Public Policy, Corey Atkins echoed that sentiment, saying “Businesspeople can't be apathetic. Go vote. It is important that we elect people that are business-minded.”

Three seats on Asheville City Council will be elected in November. Review our candidate survey to see where candidates stand on issues of importance to the business community.

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