Fayetteville Observer reporter, Paul Wolverton, did an excellent job last week reporting on the developing trend of a dwindling population in Fayetteville and Cumberland County. (Saturday 5/21/2016). He did a yeoman’s job providing a shocking and alarming wake up call to all our civic and elected officials that Fayetteville and Cumberland County communities are not on the same progressive growth track as the rest of North Carolina.
Matter of fact, we are trending in the wrong direction. As Wolverton reported, according to the Census Bureau, Cumberland County lost about 2,500 residents since July 2013. Of these, nearly 2,200 residents were City of Fayetteville residents. He has provided every resident of the city and county with a candid and objective “report card” on just how well our elected officials and civic leaders are doing in leading, managing and developing our community.
Well, folks, with North Carolina prospering and neighboring Cape Fear Region communities that surround Fayetteville and Cumberland showing consistent and substantial growth year after year, one must conclude that this report card sports a failing grade. At best, it serves as an objective and unbiased indicator that what we are doing — or not doing — as a community is serving as the catalyst for change. And, in this case, a change for the worse.
So, thank you, Mr. Wolverton, you have done your job by providing insights into a situation that if not addressed aggressively and soon, will have a disastrous outcome for our city and county in the very near future.
So, where do you start in finding solutions to reverse this exodus from Fayetteville and Cumberland County? What needs to be done? What actions need to be taken or what priorities need to be established? Do we need higher paying jobs or do we just need jobs? Do we have competent economic development leadership? Do we need to address our high crime rate or lower the local homicide rate? Do we need a cleaner and more beautiful community?
Do we need City and County elected officials coming together and collaborating with each other for the betterment of all residents? Should we consider addressing sewer line hook ups, storm water and clean water concerns as quality-of-life issues? Do we need stronger leadership or a more business friendly and supportive Chamber of Commerce? Do we need a more vibrant downtown? Do we need more recreational and quality-of-life facilities? Do we need to get dozens of panhandlers off our street corners? Do we need to define and address area homelessness?
Should we expect and demand more positive and unbiased reporting services from our news media? Will a new Performing Arts Center curb the exodus from Cumberland County, or a baseball stadium housing a major league farm team? Are beautified gateways the answer? Are lower taxes needed? Higher taxes? How good are our public schools? Are we paying our teachers a fair and just salaries? Are our local educators setting the right examples for our children?
When will Fayetteville work on developing a “brand” it can be proud of? Do we have the right people in the right positions to reverse this community’s exodus of population?
Oh, so many questions. However, people who really love and understand this community know everything listed above is relevant and doable. The only thing stopping us is our inability to get out of our own way. We must eliminate the silos, insist on electing sincere and competent leadership and then allow them to lead. This means allowing them to succeed – or maybe even allowing them to fail. A good leader puts his ideas out there with a prudent plan for execution and success. Unfortunately, we have a reputation for killing a good idea before the person presenting it has a chance to make his case. The result? Lots of talk, lots of conjecture, lots of highly paid consultants that produce studies that are for the most part, totally ignored. Folks, these are not the characteristics of a progressive community trying to endear itself to the public, business or industry.
Anyone reading this newspaper knows we love Fayetteville and Cumberland County and have made a successful 20-year business out of accentuating and promoting its history and its cultural and community assets. No one is in a better position to evaluate, identify and analyze why we are losing our population and how to reverse this horrific trend. Well, here it is in an extremely simplistic explanation: We are losing our population to other regional communities because the perceived value, beauty and enjoyment of living in the Fayetteville and Cumberland County community is being overshadowed, outweighed and diminished by the number of actual and perceived negative factors of living here. The good news is: we have the leadership and resources to turn this trend around. We need to get them in the right place with the right priorities and support their initiatives.
I heard Fayetteville Mayor Nat Robertson speak recently and he expounded on a nearly endless list of programs, opportunities and initiatives that would affect this community positively. All we need to do now is: Get it done!
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