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Taking the Field: City Diversity is a Strength 

By Paul Meyer, NCLM Executive Director

When Gov. Pat McCrory addressed municipal officials during the League’s annual Town Hall Day earlier this year, he drew a lot of applause with his comments about the different levels of government staying “in their own lanes.” Among municipal officials, it is not uncommon to hear that one-size-fits-all solutions are not appropriate for cities and towns that have markedly different needs. As I have pointed out in this column before, the tension between state and local government, and how governmental authority is doled out, is nothing new. What is new in North Carolina is the number of fronts on which this wrangling has taken place in recent years.

Missed in the heat of the moment is how well North Carolina is served – economically and from a quality of life standpoint – by having diverse towns and cities that cater to a diverse populace and help attract a diverse economic footprint. Asheville is not Raleigh, and Raleigh is not Charlotte. None of those cities is Salisbury or Lexington or Goldsboro. Many of the residents in each of those places like it just that way. North Carolina’s cities and towns, to some degree or another, reflect the collective vision of their residents, and that serves North Carolina well as a whole.

You can see it in Asheville, with its unique, interesting mix of artisans and outdoor enthusiasts, and the businesses that cater to them and the tourists attracted to the mountain city.  It was Asheville’s own  unique brand and its own vision of what the city should be that led New Belgium Brewing Company to chose it for the Fort Collins, Colo.-based company’s East Coast brewery, a decision that will bring $175 million in investment and 154 new jobs to the city and state.

By the way, that is not my assessment. It is that of the company CEO, Kim Jordan. When the decision was made last year, she said, “From the deep sense of community to the rich natural environment … Asheville has everything we’ve been looking for in a location for our second brewery.” Just down the road from Asheville, a very different vision for a community began in 1923 when nationally-known planners began creating the Town of Biltmore Forest around the idea of incorporating homes into the surrounding natural landscape. It is a vision (which includes a tree ordinance that would have been banned by legislation filed and dropped in 2014) that continues to attract retirees and others who love the mountain landscape.

Almost 200 miles to the east, the Village of Pinehurst attracts its share of retirees to a community built around some of the greatest golf courses in the world. Thirty miles to the north, the Town of Seagrove, population 228, is home to world-renowned potters and craftspeople. North and east of there, Durham has it unique heritage of African-American business and a feel completely different from its Triangle neighbors; a hundred miles to the East, Edenton’s preservation of its history and its waterfront represent its residents’ vision for itself; to the South, another waterfront community, Havelock, caters to a heavy military population.

The diversity of our towns and cities is to be celebrated, and state policymakers need to see it for what it is – a strength that attracts an array of economic activity and provides residents with a choice of lifestyles and experiences. In many ways, this rich diversity of North Carolina cities and towns represents the embodiment of the freedom upon which this country was founded.