I won’t pretend to have any insight into the political calculus of Obama’s decision to move ahead on immigration reform without Congress, but it has been entertaining to watch John Boehner and Mitch McConnell (House speaker and incoming Senate majority leader respectively) get all red in the face while spewing spittle about how this move would ruin any chance of bipartisanship during Obama’s last two years. Was there any chance of bipartisanship anyway, especially with “beat Obama at all costs” McConnell in charge of the Senate and Boehner unable to ride herd on his own party in the House?
No, we all sit out here in the blue and red states and tell our leaders they need to work together to get things done, but it ain’t happening. So, as one pundit put it, Obama will start out his last two years by giving the GOP-led Congress the finger and moving forward on some kind of immigration reform alone, an issue the GOP talks about while offering nothing concrete.
No doubt Obama is looking ahead, thinking that this move will help Democrats while also preventing further deportations. His executive order will be a Band-Aid, but perhaps it will inspire action from his opponents on comprehensive legislation to fix a very real problem.
Speaking of dysfunction, it was refreshing to see a very different and much healthier attitude taken by Western North Carolina leaders at the Lead WNC summit held last week in Cullowhee.
The economic development conference that was the brainchild of WCU Chancellor David Belcher attracted nearly 300 regional leaders, and the catchphrase for the day was “regional cooperation.”
“Regions have become the geographic locus of self-reliance. Regions compete with regions to attract business, industry, investment, tourism, talent and the creative class. If we in Western North Carolina are going to be successful within this context, we must figure out how to partner with one another across our historic boundaries,” Belcher said. “I for one cannot wait to see what you and we together will come up with to strengthen the economic health and vitality of Western North Carolina.”
That idea of working together is critical. And there are signs that it is happening.
From an economic development standpoint, our future is in more technology and creative entrepreneurship. This place attracts smart, creative people, and if we can provide the infrastructure needed then we can get them here. We talk about the need for broadband throughout the region, but we need to do more than talk. That kind of connectivity is the foundation for almost all future economic development, kind of like the railroad was in the 1800s.
From a tourism perspective, we’re hearing more leaders talk about the need to promote the region instead of individual counties. Right now the room tax collected in each county is the primary tourism marketing resource for the region. For the most part, that means pitting each county against the other.
We need to develop a way to fund a regional partnership that will brand the North Carolina Smokies. That would be the long-term way to keep all our counties growing and profiting from the tourists we are all trying to attract. Until that happens, the region as a whole will not live up to its potential.