N.C. Department of Commerce Secretary Machelle Sanders said the state’s economy is on the road to recovery from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But Sanders told the Regional Economic Summit at Elizabeth City State University Friday that staying on that road will require a shot in the arm in the form of more COVID-19 vaccinations.
Around 200 business, community and governmental leaders attended the day-long inaugural summit at the K.E. White Graduate Center.
Sanders emphasized that COVID remains a threat, as people continue to get sick, become hospitalized and die from the virus. The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services’ dashboard showed 3,761 newly reported cases and 2,208 COVID hospitalizations in the state on Thursday. It also showed 65% of the state’s adult population now being fully vaccinated.
“I want to encourage you, your family and friends, colleagues and employees to please consider getting vaccinated,” Sanders said. “The vaccination is the first step to economic recovery.’’
Sanders said having a strong and healthy workforce will help create jobs all across the state.
“I doubt there is anyone here that doesn’t want a healthy workforce,” Sanders said. “I ask you to talk with your healthcare provider to protect yourself, your family, your friends and our community.”
Sanders was born in rural Beaufort County and said she “is biased” toward promoting economic development in rural areas of the state.
“Eighty-percent of North Carolina is rural and not only is it the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do,” Sanders said of promoting economic development in those areas. “When we lift up our counties and our state, that doesn’t only mean lifting Raleigh and Wake County, Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. That means lifting everyone.”
Sanders acknowledged that rural counties face unique challenges and that a collaborative effort from leaders in rural counties is needed to meet those challenges.
One such challenge is expanding broadband internet to rural parts of the state, including in northeastern North Carolina.
Sanders said 1.1 million households that are mostly in rural areas have no internet access or lack reliable access, saying they live on the “wrong side of the railroad tracks.”
“We can do better and we need to do better,” Sanders said. “It’s way past time talking about it. It’s way past time for politicians to be talking about it. It’s time to take action and do something about it.”
Thursday’s summit also included round-table discussions on renewable energy, workforce development, minority and women-owned businesses, farming and tourism.