Have you ever seen a child, or do you remember from the mists of your own childhood, having literal growing pains?
  I am thinking about the deep ache in their bones that children report feeling and which sometimes reduces them to tears. It can sometimes do the same to their sympathetic mothers. While uncomfortable, even painful, such aches are really positive signs. They mean the child is healthy and developing as he or she should.
  States can have growing pains as well, and North Carolina is in the throes of some deep and serious aches.
  We are now the 10th-largest state in the nation, having recently out-peopled New Jersey, and still growing. I believe without question that our state’s growth is a good thing. It means that our economy and our quality of life are such that people want to make their homes and their livelihoods here, somewhere between the mountains of Murphy and the beaches of Manteo. Estimates are that about 21 people are born or arrive in North Carolina every hour, a growth rate which will bring us about 4 million more people by 2030. This is roughly the equivalent of every blessed soul in South Carolina pulling up stakes and moving here.
 {mosimage} I would not want North Carolina to be a state that is losing population and wondering where its future lies.
  That being said, growth brings challenges — growing pains for our state.
  The Institute for Emerging Issues is a Raleigh think tank associated with North Carolina State University. It considers all sorts of issues each year, and once a year it puts on a two-day forum exploring an issue facing North Carolina. Over the last two decades, IEI has delved into many meaty issues, including the challenge of innovation and competition, investing in our health, the fragile partnership between people and our planet and public schools and higher education. Such topics have drawn national experts to speak, including the likes of Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, Marian Wright Edelman, Steve Forbes and Thomas Friedman.
  This year’s forum occurred earlier this month on the topic of “Changing Landscapes: Building the Good Growth State” and included such luminaries as Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd and New York Times columnist David Brooks. The talk was all about growth and infrastructure. How do we meet the needs of a steadily and rapidly growing population at a time when the resources to pay for those needs are dwindling?
Provocative ideas and stimulating conversation were everywhere, but the most interesting to me by far was Sen. Dodd’s challenge to North Carolina — and really to all of America — to “be bold.”
  The senator reminded us all that our nation has been transformed several times by advances in our infrastructure — advances that fundamentally altered the way we live and the way we develop as a country.
  He reminded us of the importance of the Erie Canal, which in 1825 opened up transportation from New York on the East Coast and the Great Lakes. The Erie Canal took 100 years to build and changed our commerce forever.
  He reminded us of the importance of the 1844 message that Samuel F. B. Morse pecked out in dots and dashes to the office Dodd now occupies in Washington. The coded message said “What hath God wrought,” and it ushered in the era of instant communication which has morphed into what you and I take for granted every day, the Internet.
  He reminded us of driving the final stake at Promontory Point, Utah, in 1861 to create the first intercontinental railroad and, thus, interstate commerce as we know it, and of Franklin Roosevelt’s lighting up of our nation through rural electrification in the 1930s.
  He nudged us once again on a grand plan begun during my own childhood which made us the most mobile nation in the history of the world. President Dwight D. Eisenhower had been mightily impressed by the German Autobahn and wanted roads like that in our country. The result is our Interstate highway system of 46,000 miles of roadways and which took decades and $400 billion to complete.
Each of these projects was bold. Each was wildly expensive, and each was ridiculed in its time as folly and extravagance. But where would we be without them? Dodd was challenging.
 Why are we who consider ours the greatest nation in the world letting our infrastructure age and decline? Why, when China is spending 9 percent of its gross domestic product and conducting the largest railway system expansion in world history, are we investing only 2 percent of ours in infrastructure? European nations are investing at double our rate.
 Why, Dodd asks, are we thinking small and patching what we have instead of envisioning, as one of Dodd’s constituents does, projects like a freight rail system that would run from California to North Carolina?
 What has happened to our courage, our vision, our innovation and our willingness to take risks? What has happened to our confidence in ourselves and in our nation?
 Where, asked Dodd, are today’s Erie Canals?
 Where, indeed?

Contact Margaret Dickson at editor@upandcomingweekly.com

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