Lessons from Main Street

Jan. 19, 2013 @ 01:57 PM

In his inaugural address Governor Pat McCrory spoke of looking out toward Main Street, with government at our back and unlimited opportunity ahead.

This Main Street metaphor stirs up memories of a simpler time when it was the hub of the community, where we did our shopping, banking, got our prescriptions filled and where we gathered to meet friends and watch Christmas and homecoming parades.

For the most part, stores and shops on Main Street were locally owned by people you knew, people who knew you, folks you went to church with and sat beside at the Little League baseball games. When a community or charitable project needed undertaking they stepped up and helped make it successful.

But in too many communities Main Street today has become littered with empty storefronts, trash and crime. We moved to the burbs. Then businesses moved, first to the mall, then to the Internet.

Pat McCrory, as the former mayor of our largest city, deliberately used the Main Street analogy. As he spoke he was looking out over the Main Street of the Capital City, once all but deserted, but now thriving because another mayor gathered people who decided to revitalize it. McCrory’s message was that North Carolina, like Main Street, has lost some of its vitality but that doesn’t have to be tomorrow’s reality.

The governor hopes to instill again our pride in North Carolina and our determination that working together we can fix problems. To succeed, we cannot afford to leave anyone behind, regardless of age, sex, race, income or education level. On a larger level we must not leave behind some communities while others prosper, most especially those communities east of I-95 and in the far western part of our state. 

On Main Street we treated each other as neighbors, helping others financially and with our service when needed. For whatever the reason we relegated that role, turning it over to government, putting government first instead of behind us to be the backstop and safety need. We’ve grown too dependent on government to do what we ought to do as neighbors. And that government, at all levels, is too complicated, impersonal and bureaucratic. McCrory wants state government to be “customer oriented” and is reminding us government exists to serve us instead of the other way around and we become less dependent on government when we serve others.

Finally, we need to remember that businesses along Main Street were small enterprises. We’ve bought into the “bigger is better” mentality in business and especially in government. We’ve forgotten that smaller is often smarter, that the sum is greater than any of the parts and collectively small businesses are the true economic engine of this state. Seven of ten new jobs come from small businesses that can’t afford to hire tax and legal experts, lobbyists or human relations directors. If we want to restore North Carolina’s Main Street we need to pay more than lip service to helping these small businesses to survive and thrive.

Governor McCrory is right. We need that Main Street mentality. The closer you get to the people the more likely you are to reach consensus and work together for the common good. Let us return to Main Street to both remember our past and look to our future.

Tom Campbell is former assistant North Carolina state treasurer and is creator/host of NC SPIN, a weekly statewide television discussion of NC issues airing Sundays at 6:30 a.m. on WRAL-TV and at 8:30 a.m. on WRAZ-TV FOX50.  Contact him at www.ncspin.com.