Building a North Carolina for the Future

LivingPower September/October 2023

By Tim O’Connell

Much of this legislative season has focused on a few key policy areas but none more than healthcare and education. As the debate on various bills related to these topics filled the lawmakers’ calendars, North Carolina received the nation’s topic ranking for its business climate by CNBC for the second year in a row. This pinnacle of recognition provides a vantage point to look back to understand how we earned this ranking and simultaneously look forward to how we must use it to shape our future — a future that includes a dramatic change in our population.

The NC Office of State Budget and Management data shows that over the next 15 years, the population of those over 65 will swell to 2.7 million. That is 1 million more than the current number in this age group. To give context to this number, imagine every single person living in Cumberland County, Mecklenburg County, and Wake County as 65 or older. Returning to the state’s top business ranking, there are many to thank for this status: our lawmakers over the decades, entrepreneurial innovators, small business owners, and you, as a retired government employee, who laid the foundation during your working career. The roads you built, the students you educated, the communities you protected, the workforce training programs you delivered, the parks and recreation programs you provided, the economic development you fostered, the healthcare services you administered, the building permits you issued, and on and on, making North Carolina an attractive option for businesses to thrive.

In his book North Carolina Beyond the Connected Age: The Tarheel State in 2050, economist Mike Walden provides a budgetarily descriptive view of a potential “generational clash” between funding education for our youth and funding the healthcare needed to serve the increased demand for North Carolina’s over-65 population. Clearly, as successful as North Carolina is in business, it has the opportunity to lead the nation in successfully educating its younger people and successfully providing care for its older population. We are fortunate to live in a state where leading industries are healthcare, pharmaceutical research, education, and technology — giving our political leaders, government entities, and business communities a head start in bringing resources together to address this future, with much less chance of a “clash” if we so choose.

You now have an important role in advocating for this future with your elected leaders and potential supporting agencies. I encourage you all to familiarize yourself and get involved with the NC Division of Aging and Adult Services’ comprehensive initiative called All Ages, All Stages NC: A Roadmap for Aging and Living Well. Key areas of the plan include Strengthening Communities for a Lifetime, Optimizing Healthcare, Supporting Older Adults and Their Families, and Affording Aging. All of these areas are ones that NCRGEA directly or indirectly supports and lobbies for on your behalf at the legislature.

I invite you to visit the website for All Ages, All Stages NC to find more details, including how to easily fill out an online form to join a stakeholder workgroup.

You were an integral part of building North Carolina into what it is today. Now you have an opportunity to continue that building by contributing your wisdom and expertise as you advocate for North Carolina’s future.