Institute will examine urban-rural economic linkages

Bridge over the Pee Dee River on N.C. 109 connects Anson County to Richmond County. Photo: Nancy Pierce

A grant from The Duke Endowment will launch the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute on a two-year project to research economic disparities in the Charlotte region and identify ways to forge stronger economic ties between the economically robust urban core and rural communities that risk being left behind.

The $329,174 grant over two years will fund research and community engagement with the goal to assist local communities – especially in rural areas where the economy is lagging – in suggesting locally based strategies for economic renewal.

“In today’s knowledge-based economy, with its focus on urban areas, the conventional economic development model practiced by many rural communities – industrial recruitment – may no longer be enough to guarantee stable employment at sustainable wages long-term,” says Jeff Michael, the institute’s director.  As the region has experienced a decline in manufacturing from the traditional textile and furniture industries, it has also lost the economic and cultural linkages that once helped build a shared regional identity, he says.

The project will take an in-depth, data-driven look at the greater Charlotte region to better understand linkages that once existed and see whether they still do. The researchers will also reach out to communities in the region to hear the voices of local residents and will identify opportunities for untapped connections that might foster new economic activity.

One goal for the project is to help communities create a shared vision of economic renewal that transcends political, ideological and geographic differences.

The grant was made through the endowment’s Rural Church program area. “The Duke Endowment’s Rural Church program area believes that regional economies create a mutually beneficial bridge between rural and urban communities,” said Robb Webb, the program area’s director. “We are excited that research to test this hypothesis is launching, and we’re eager to learn what the institute discovers and how we may apply those findings to our work.”

The three-person team leading the project will be Jeff Michael, institute director; Dr. Bill Graves, associate professor in the UNC Charlotte Department of Geography and Earth Sciences, whose expertise includes studying the impacts of economic changes in the southeastern United States; and Mary Newsom, director of urban policy initiatives at the institute.

The project will include a strong online component of articles highlighting the research as well as stories and other digital content highlighting the communities studied.

The UNC Charlotte Urban Institute, founded in 1969, is an applied research institute that seeks solutions to the social, economic and environmental challenges facing communities in the Charlotte region. It is the oldest research center at UNC Charlotte.

The Duke Endowment, based in Charlotte, works to help people and strengthen communities in North and South Carolina. Industrialist James Buchanan Duke established the endowment in 1924 with $40 million. Since its inception the endowment has awarded nearly $3.6 billion in grants.

A kayaker paddles the Cedar Creek Reservoir (Stumpy Pond) near Great Falls in eastern Chester County, S.C. Photo: Nancy Pierce