The story of North Carolina and Wake county is in many ways, the American story.
Less than a century ago, our state was part of the “old” south. We were rich with tradition, but desperately poor in many parts of our state. We were agrarian, and largely under-educated. Mid-century, while parts of the country raced past us, plunging into the “new” manufacturing economy, North Carolina was largely stuck in the old economy We were certainly not progressing towards the new knowledge-based economy we live in today.
This began to change when Terry Sanford became Governor. He invested in schools, and set in place ideas that would strengthen the UNC system, making it one of the best in the nation. With a bold vision for reaching people from Manteo to Murphy, Governor Sanford then started the community college system.
Governor Jim Hunt would soon follow, and through his endless drive and spirit of innovation, North Carolina began investing in young children and soon soared past its southern neighbors to become a state known and admired for our commitment to education. Governor Bev Perdue has upheld the proud tradition of education, vetoing attempts to dismantle the progress made. We have all been direct beneficiaries of those great leaders.
As a native son of the state, I attended the public schools and the University of North Carolina where I received a great education there by dedicated teachers in a diverse environment. After college, I had the good fortune of being in a leadership role in one of the state’s largest banks where I worked with a great and diverse workforce. When I retired from the banking business, I was asked to assist the last two Governors of NC on matters of economic policy. Through those experiences I have learned that in order for us to be successful in business, we must invest in education. Without an educated work force, we simply can’t compete.
Wake County has long been a model in public education, one of the best in the state. Without the success of Wake County schools it is unlikely we would be consistently acknowledged as one of the top places to live and work in the country. It is unlikely that RTP would have grown to be internationally recognized, and it is unlikely that we would have been able to recruit and retain the many successful companies that now call Raleigh and the Triangle home.
Our economic future depends on strong schools for all of our children in every community in our state.
Unfortunately the policies of the new majority on the Wake County School Board threaten Wake County’s economic future and the attractiveness of our area as a thriving business environment.
This is one of those times when doing what is right for society has a direct impact on doing what is right for business.
Exposure to diversity makes us all better, because it is a diverse world we live in locally and globally.
In my current business role, my firm makes investments in small businesses of all types with diverse work forces which serve diverse customers. Diversity isn’t a political label as the Board Majority used it to win in 2009. Diversity means that our schools must offer a wide range of achievement, culture, experience and individuals to prepare our children for the global economy of the 21st Century.
The current School Board Majority threatens our economic and civic future with misguided policies that will turn back the clock on our region’s prosperity in what I fear, in a significant way. As our economy continues to struggle, the timing of this threat could not be more critical.
It is time for a change here on the Wake County School Board. We know from our experience that leadership matters. It is leadership that created the great business environment we enjoy here in the Triangle. And unfortunately, it is the “leadership” of the new majority on the school board that threatens our economic future. The stakes are high. Let’s do the right thing and replace the misguided school board members who have already done so much damage.
It’s not too late.
Kel Landis III is the former CEO of RBC Centura and has served as an economic advisor to both Governor Easley and Governor Perdue. He currently is a Principal of Plexus Capital, a firm that invests in small businesses throughout the southeastern US. He serves on various boards at UNC-CH, Trustee of the Kenan Institute for Private Enterprise, the NC Community Foundation, Trustee of the NC Supplemental Retirement Board, a former Trustee of Elizabeth City State University, and former Chair of the North Carolina Banker’s Association.