EDITOR’S NOTE: As state legislators returned to Raleigh recently for their 2021 session, Winston-Salem businessman Don Flow shared the following thoughts with legislative leaders.
By Don Flow
America is in the midst of enormous turmoil, with rural whites and urban blacks caught in the same undercurrent. Although they express their frustration and anger in different ways and their historic settings are different, their present situation is very similar. The current of prosperity has left them behind and they are either angry or in despair.
The fact of the matter is that we are either not creating enough jobs or we are not preparing people with the skills needed to get the available jobs. When a person cannot get a job, everything begins to fall apart in his/her life. In essence, we have a jobs issue and education is the key to changing this.
Putting my partisan hat on, this is a huge opportunity for the Republican Party because it is the story of creating opportunity and growth. It is not about creating entitlement. It is about investing in young people, our economy, and the future of our state.
I have three very specific proposals on which I am willing to spend time and resources to see if North Carolina is willing to lead the nation and if the NC Republican Party can craft a narrative that sets a new direction for the state:
1. Universal Pre-K. When a child falls behind in development, it is a rare occurrence for the child to catch up. For working-class families with dual incomes, if they do not have access to pre-kindergarten, we are guaranteeing their children are not starting out on a level playing field. The tragedy is that data show if they are not ready when they come into kindergarten, the odds drop enormously that they will be reading on grade level in third grade. If a child is not reading on grade level in third grade, we are stacking the odds against the child flourishing as an adult. Pre-K is the key to starting down the path to a life of opportunity. I believe it is a moral imperative that we do everything possible to start off every child in this state on this path.
Public education for every child needs to begin at pre-K. If we do not do this, we are advantaging people with resources (like my children) and disadvantaging those without these resources. This is happening in rural North Carolina and urban North Carolina and it is stifling economic mobility. We can change this.
2. Free Community/Technical college. A two-year technical degree guarantees a person access to a middle-class, stable life. The number of job openings in technical fields in North Carolina is in the tens of thousands. Unfortunately, there are not qualified people to fill these jobs. (We presently have openings for 100 technicians in our automotive service departments.)
North Carolina needs to extend public education to grade 14 for technical education through our Community College System. This will create an explosion in economic mobility and growth and create jobs for 20-22-year-olds all over the state: technicians, welders, plumbers, electricians, health care workers, software design, construction, etc.
This will break the cycle of poverty in this state by opening up opportunities in our rural communities and in our cities. With this initiative, North Carolina will be the state of opportunity. Businesses will be able to grow, we will be able to attract companies looking for technically trained people, and we will make the middle class a realistic opportunity for every citizen.
3. The UNC system is the most important institution for creating economic wealth in North Carolina.
I am not a graduate of the UNC System. I went to the University of Virginia as an undergraduate and to Wake Forest for graduate school. But I have regularly heard from CEOs and governors around the United States about their envy of the UNC system. I have known most of the Southern governors in the last few years, and they all believe the primary differentiator of North Carolina from all other Southern states is the UNC System.
New economic wealth comes from leveraging intellectual capital. The intellectual capital embedded in the faculty of the UNC system, the talent development for our state via the graduates, and the economic capital created through grants, patents, licenses, and start up companies has been extraordinary. We must continue to invest in this unparalleled institution.
If the Republican Party is going to be the party of creating opportunities and enabling people to live lives that put them on the track of being contributing citizens of our state, I want to urge you to take the lead in pursuing this agenda. I have spoken with business leaders all over the state and they are in full support of these initiatives.
Don Flow is the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Flow Automotive Companies in Winston-Salem.