Thinking Differently About Our Regional Approach

Rethinking Our Thinking Blog Series

By Lee Worsley

You don’t need me to tell you that many areas of our region are rapidly changing. Just take a drive down one of our Interstates or a stroll through many of our downtowns and you’ll notice all the cleared lots, renovated buildings, and apartment complexes going up on every corner to satisfy a hungry market. Our region’s seven counties added an additional 243,061 residents between 2010 and 2017, saw a 20% increase in the sale of new homes during 2018, and a 1.6% decrease in the unemployment rate. These numbers are impressive, and they display the qualities of our region that put us at the top of national lists ranking job markets, quality of candidates, regions for business, and much more.

However, these statistics do not display the complications accompanying this change. Roughly 13% of our regional residents remain below the poverty line. The median sales price of all homes has increased 33.2% since 2015 and 28% of residents are cost-burdened, meaning they spend more than 30% of their monthly income on housing. Commuting patterns and a regional workforce spanning from Chatham to Johnston and Granville to Harnett causes increasing highway gridlock and reduces quality of life for the roughly 26%, 233,894, of residents who cross county lines to go to work. While many of our communities are facing rapid growth, there are areas in our region struggling to grow, manage aging infrastructure, and make hard decisions about their future. Our region still has significant areas of poverty, stagnant growth and little prospect for economic development or mobility. This should be a concern and priority for the entire region. Jurisdictional lines shouldn’t matter when our neighbors need help.

But you don’t need me to tell you this either. While these statistics may not be news to you, they represent challenges that our region struggles to address in a cohesive and proactive way. Thinking differently about transportation, housing, or economic opportunity is hard, especially when boundaries of all types – county, municipal, NCDOT region, watershed – separate our communities from one another. Despite our best attempts and intentions to work together, these multiple silos make it difficult to be innovative around these complex issues.

However, I know this much to be true: Our region has changed a great deal, it will continue to change, and it is imperative that we find new strategies to address these big challenges, together.

Thankfully, committed elected officials and local government employees work every day for regional and local betterment. It is wonderful to work in a region with so much goodwill and willingness to work together, and it is because of this dedication that we have achieved so much as a region already.

Internally at TJCOG we are taking the rapid change to heart by assessing the transforming needs of our region and how they relate to our work, the mindset we use to approach problems, and the value of the programs we offer our members. As our region changes, there are two options: adapt or fall behind.

I have challenged staff to benchmark the services we provide against other major metro Councils of Governments and changing regions in the United States. To be most effective for our members, we need to see how our service compares to a Metro Washington, D.C. COG, Atlanta Regional Commission, Denver Regional Council, etc. While our peer COGs in North Carolina are important assets to us, we cannot solely compare our service to theirs, because our region is facing different challenges. I would also like to challenge you, as our members, to look at regional organizations outside of NC and find examples of how a TJCOG 2.0 could best serve our 43 local government members.

Through our organization’s seven priority areas, we are reframing our mission, goals, and programmatic focus to reflect internal strengths and new external needs. For example, our housing priority has grown dramatically in the past few years but was not even on the radar for TJCOG five years ago.

This year’s Regional Summit, Rethinking Our Thinking, is another way we are “rethinking” our work and engaging you, our stakeholders and members, to be a part of the process. The event is designed to encourage unique idea sharing and reflection from our stakeholders about transportation, housing, resilience, and economic mobility. Ultimately, Rethinking Our Thinking will be an avenue to find next steps, new solutions, and new partnerships around these four topics. The feedback and input from this wide range of partners and organizations will be reported out to our board to begin these strategic conversations.

It is time for us as a region to assess our current status and identify ways to collectively move forward. Join us.

Want to think differently about our region’s challenges with a diverse group of community leaders and advocates? Join TJCOG at our 2019 Regional Summit, Rethinking Our Thinking, on October 10th in Pittsboro, NC.

Interested in providing input on the future of TJCOG? Add your name here.

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