Candidates discuss jobless rate
BY WILLIAM F. WEST
Sunday, September 22, 2019
The issue of the Rocky Mount metropolitan area consistently having the highest jobless and underemployment rates of metro areas in North Carolina was one of many questions asked at a forum of candidates for city offices.
The forum was held late last week in Barnes Auditorium at Edgecombe Community College’s Rocky Mount campus.
All the candidates for mayor and four contested City Council seats were present and asked how they would address such an economic challenge.
The Rocky Mount area’s unemployment rate is 6 percent, while the statewide average is 4.2 percent.
Ward 5 council candidate Robert Cordell quickly summed up his response: “Jobs, jobs and more jobs.”
Cordell also said he favors tax incentives to help attract more businesses to the city.
Next to answer was Ward 5 council candidate Lige Daughtridge, who is a board member of the Rocky Mount-based Carolinas Gateway Partnership, which is the chief industrial recruiter locally.
Daughtridge said the partnership, in conjunction with the area’s government officials, is working with the community colleges to train a workforce. Edgecombe County is going to be the scene of New York-based Corning’s future distribution facility and Chinese-based Triangle Tire’s future manufacturing facility.
Noting he operates a small business, Daughtridge also spoke of the lack of potential future employees both being trained and having soft skills to work with people. Daughtridge said his bottom line is jobs are available.
“I’m out there giving jobs every day — and I know what it takes for people to get a job,” he said. “The big thing that everyone needs to get a job is you show up for work and you work harder than the next person.”
Ward 4 candidate Elaine B. Williams reiterated statements by civic officials about approximately 3,500 jobs in the pipeline as a result of future commitments by businesses and industries.
Williams said numerous community colleges, including Edgecombe Community College and Nash Community College, will train people to secure jobs and said employers are going to be sitting at the table interviewing candidates.
“So right now, people just need to be preparing themselves so when preparation meets opportunity, there’s going to be a success story,” Williams said.
Ward 4 candidate T.J. Walker Jr. cited what he believes is the need to look at what is causing people not to have jobs.
“We have to be able to offer resources that say that we are making an effort to help our citizens as much as possible,” Walker said. “Now if our citizens say, ‘Hey look, we don’t want to be able to receive the help you’re offering,’ that’s on them.
“But as a city we have to be able to make sure that we have accessible job training hubs in all of our communities that are lacking employment,” Walker said.
Ward 3 candidate Gwen Wilkins said she believes there needs to be a system in which people needing help can enroll in a community college so they can learn a trade.
“But people, let’s not fool ourselves,” Wilkins said. “We have a high crime area here in Rocky Mount. What business is going to come to Rocky Mount with the crime like it is?”
Wilkins said she wants to first address the crime problem and next address the need for affordable housing before working with Carolinas Gateway Partnership, as well as the state Commerce Department, to bring jobs.
Ward 3 candidate Nellene Richardson said because she is a person of action, “In my ward, I’m about to open a business and hire felons, because I believe that because my ward is a ward that is so full of felons, they can’t get jobs.”
“We can’t just talk about what we’re going to do,” Richardson said. “It’s time to do something.”
Richardson told of the situation being so economically desperate in Ward 3 that people knock on her door asking for help in paying overdue rents. She spoke of herself and others in the ward collecting greenbacks so tenants could pay their landlords.
Ward 3 Councilman Richard Joyner expressed his preference for speaking about successes, noting Butterfields Butter along Pitt Street is hiring residents who can ride bicycles to work. Joyner spoke of a lady who had problems before becoming a supervisor at the business and becoming a homeowner.
Joyner also spoke of the successes of food gardens in the ward, enabling residents to make sales to the hospital and others locally.
“Ward 3 is on the move going forward,” he said.
Ward 1 candidate Tarrick Pittman, who is in the computer repair business, said he wants Rocky Mount to be known for technology and would like to see the creation of a technology resource center.
Pittman said a representative of Apple calls and asks him whether he has an intern from N.C. Wesleyan College who could be offered a career opportunity.
And Pittman said a representative of Microsoft calls him and added, “I have a young lady from Nashville who works for Microsoft now making $80,000 a year.”
Ward 1 Councilman Andre Knight cited the vision of the Edgecombe County Board of Commissioners in acquiring the land for the Kingsboro Megasite, resulting in future jobs coming to the Rocky Mount area.
Knight said youth and development training are already in progress and pointed out the work going on with Edgecombe Community College and Nash Community College to train employees. And Knight said sales tax revenues are on the uptick in Edgecombe County.
“So I just want to paint a positive picture about Rocky Mount — and that there is a bright future and things are coming, jobs are coming to this city,” Knight said.
The question flowed to the candidates for mayor, with Robert Lee Alston saying he was motivated enough when he was a young man to go out and cut grass, deliver newspapers and wash cars.
“If you want to work, you can work,” Alston said.
Alston also said he hopes people with past criminal records get a second chance to secure a decent job.
Mayoral candidate Kevin Jones said, “Well first, I want to say that there is a huge section of a capable workforce who cannot find work because of decisions they made when they were 18, 19, 20 years old.”
Jones also said he is concerned about underemployment breeding crime, prompting parents and guardians to get their children out of the city and increasing the difficulty of having a future trained workforce.
Jones also said industrial executives are going to go on the Internet and see reports about the crime, along with a distrust of government.
“They’re going to really see a picture that is painted that doesn’t reflect our true capabilities,” he said.
Mayoral candidate Sandy Roberson said he believes questions need to be asked about the jobless situation, including whether there is a re-entry issue and a skills issue.
Roberson said he believes another question is perhaps whether the community needs to recruit businesses who could offer jobs more readily employable to residents.
Roberson said he has spent a lifetime in entrepreneur pursuits creating thousands of jobs and added, “I believe that we should consider becoming a logistics center.”
Mayoral candidate Bronson Williams, noting New York-based Mavis Discount Tire’s future retail location in Rocky Mount, said things are happening in the city and said there are new opportunities daily for residents.
Williams also spoke about the need to take advantage of economic opportunity zones in the area, with the offers of tax credits, so those facing challenges can become their own bosses and hire residents.
“So there’s things that we can do to address a lot of the issues that we’re talking about, but there is no need to drive to Washington, D.C., when the answer is in downtown Rocky Mount,” Williams said.