Moving forward after Triangle J COG’s Regional Summit.
It’s been two months since our Regional Summit occurred in Clayton and I am still beyond thankful for the tremendous turnout and feedback we got from attendees. It was obvious that the theme of “Connecting our Rural and Urban Communities” truly resonated with our member governments and attendees. Since a little time has passed, I wanted to reflect on some of the Summit highlights, but more importantly discuss my thoughts about how Triangle J Council of Governments will continue the conversation that began during the event.
First, I want to take a few moments to personally thank those that made the Summit a success. Thank you to all TJCOG staff who planned, organized and executed the Summit. They did a wonderful job and I heard a lot of great compliments from those in attendance about TJCOG staff as well. Thank you to the Town of Clayton and the staff at The Clayton Center for being great hosts for the event. Last but not least, thank you to our many financial sponsors, whose support allowed us to offer registration at a very reasonable rate and guaranteed that no member assessment dollars had to be used to put on the Summit.
Reflecting on the day
Throughout the Summit, the theme of better connection across our rural and urban communities in the Triangle J region was woven into formal presentations and informal discussions among participants. Personally, one of the biggest takeaways from the day was that while there are differences between the region’s communities, the data clearly shows that the largest challenges equally affect the region and require continued regional action.
One of the starkest challenges facing our region is poverty. While the Triangle region has enjoyed vast economic prosperity over the years, poverty continues to be a significant issue – one that ignores jurisdictional lines. As an example, here is Regional Planning Director John Hodges-Copple’s Regional Summit Morning Presentation “The Triangle in 10 Minutes”. The slide on the regional economy is eye-opening (Slide Number 14) and should be a renewed call to action. With more than 280,000 individuals in poverty in the Research Triangle Region, John illustrates that poverty equally impacts our communities. While we have more poor and unemployed people in urban counties (total of 164,406 in Durham, Orange, and Wake, combined) the rates of poverty are equally as disturbing in the rural counties (11% in Chatham, 16% in Johnston, 14% in Moore and 17% in Lee).
John’s presentation also clearly highlighted the fact that our region is expected to continue to grow by another 1 million residents in the next generation. This growth will have unknown effects on our regional transportation, infrastructure, and economy, and will require collaboration to properly prepare for the significant changes we will witness.
Envisioning a future together
During lunch, the Summit turned its focus toward regional possibilities and challenges in the future. Facilitated discussions focused on these key questions:
1. What do you value about the TJCOG region that you want to preserve in the future?
2. Two generations from now, what challenges do you hope will be overcome in
3. What should be done as a region to overcome the challenges you named?
The participants generated a number of interesting answers, displayed in the word clouds above. While Summit attendees represented a diverse group of communities, roles, and organizations, they overwhelmingly had similar values and hopes for the future of the region.
Planning to make the “envisioned” future a reality
So how will Triangle J COG continue to build on the momentum from the Summit? Further, how will we continue to leverage our role as the only region-wide local government entity in the Triangle region to connect our diverse communities? In addition to our ongoing work on regional challenges around transportation, housing affordability, water resources, and a growing older adult population, below are a few initiatives we will embark on this year. I welcome your thoughts and ideas about how TJCOG can advance solutions that incorporate rural and urban voices.
- Triangle J Council of Governments, with the support of our Board of Delegates and member governments, is working with the US Economic Development Administration to gain the designation as the Economic Development District (EDD) for the Triangle J region. Once the EDD designation has been secured, Triangle J will be able to dedicate staff to coordinate regional economic development strategies and lead an update to the region’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS). The CEDS, first completed in 2014, is required by US EDA for entities to be competitive for EDA funding. This CEDS update is a critical opportunity for our member governments, anchor institutions and other regional partners to assess regional economic development strategies, discuss future needs, and coordinate new initiatives, especially when it comes to rural and urban issues.
- Triangle J COG staff will visit our local member government during the first quarter of 2018. These visits will allow stakeholders to voice opportunities and gaps in their community on rural-urban connection and how TJCOG should work to advance the conversation.
- As John mentioned at the Summit, our region is poised for significant growth over the next generation. Our region’s footprint has changed dramatically over the last 30 years, and the Triangle is mentioned in the same breath with other large and rapidly growing regions like Austin, Denver, DC and San Francisco. The growth we have seen, and expect to see, means that it is more important than ever for our regional communities, and TJCOG, to think strategically about how best the organization can serve member and regional needs. In the next year, TJCOG will begin a strategic planning process to map out our organization’s mission and goals for the next 5-10 years.
Exciting times are ahead for our region and for our organization. Your continued participation is crucial to ensure that TJCOG continues to support our members and our region effectively. Our Regional Summit was a great way to start the conversation around difficult topics. Now, let us work together to ensure TJCOG is positioned to help your community and the region overcome such challenges and grow successfully.