Time to Take Action
Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.

Things Look Different Here--in North Carolina

Leaving Oregon, by Janet Whitfield , 6/12/03

Dear Friends,
Spending the winter in North Carolina and having a wonderful time. The ocean is usually blue, not green, and there's hardly any rain, relatively speaking.
I'm learning the political makeup here and comparing it, and other things, to my beloved state of Oregon.


Like us, North Carolinians have a Democrat governor and are split on U.S. senators--Republican Dole and Democrat Edwards. Their state house, like our senate, is split down the middle, but the working solution they've come up with is to give equal power to both parties--in other words, two speakers.

And their senate is in the hands of the Democrats and the senate president is the Democrat lieutenant governor, elected by the people statewide. She runs the legislative process.

Democrats rule.

So we can expect North Carolina to be more liberal than Oregon, right?

Wrong. Things look different here. This is the South, after all. And here in the South, the economy--not the environment--rules.

North Carolina has a $42 billion economy; Oregon just $19 billion.

So I looked into reasons why North Carolina's economy is so much bigger than ours. Here's what I've noticed:


North Carolina has twice as many people: 8 million to our 3.5 million. But Oregon, at 97,073 square miles, is almost twice as big as North Carolina, just 52,669 square miles. In others words, they have twice as many people on half the land.

With that density level it stands to reason that North Carolina would be more urban than Oregon.

Well, yes it is. North Carolina has seven cities with populations of more than 100,000. The largest city, Charlotte, has about 2.2 million in its metropolitan area. Oregon has two large cities--Portland and Eugene--and the Portland metropolitan area has about 1.5 million. Compared to us you could call North Carolina an urban state.


But North Carolina is also a farm-oriented state. In spite of having so little space with so many people, North Carolina considers agriculture its number-one industry. In fact, the state ranks third nationally in farm profits with a net farm income of over $3.2 billion. Oregon ranks 36th with a net farm income of a little under $266 million.

Net income per farm in North Carolina is over $57,000. Oregon's net farm income per farm is just $6,646.


On a recent trip home to Oregon, I sat through staggered access lights before I could get onto Sunset Highway where I inched along in commuter traffic. I have yet to see such a traffic control concoction in North Carolina.

You would think, in a state with 8 million people and seven cities over 100,000, that getting people into mass transit would be a major priority. Oh yes, they have inner city buses, but the cities have yet to build a trolley system like Portland's, and they have no monorail or light rail--although I hear Charlotte is looking into it.

What this state has instead are more than 78,000 miles of paved, four-lane highways. Oregon, less than 8,000.


When congress finally got serious about dismantling some of the no-longer useful military bases, elected officials found they couldn't bear, politically, to see the civilian jobs that would be eliminated if such a thing happened in their districts. It's federal money to the state. So they appointed a commission to take some of the difficult responsibility off the shoulders of Congress.

No problem with Oregon. Not only have we not seriously cultivated military spending here--at least not since World War II--but we can't wait to see our single military installation--Umatilla Army Depot--go away.

Things are different here in North Carolina. When the U.S. military mobilizes like it has for the Iraq situation, there's an effect on local economies. The state has eight permanent military bases that provide a direct economic impact that exceeds $7 billion annually. Here, slightly more than 100,000 active-duty military are stationed, while only about 3,500 serve in Oregon.


Timber is king in Oregon--or used to be. According to the Oregon Bluebook, we have gone from 9 billion board feet harvested in 1971 to just 3.4 billion board feet harvested in 2001. In Oregon's Douglas County trees grow the fastest, tallest and fattest of anywhere in the world. So it stands to reason that if you want to save the environment, the most efficient way to do that would be to cut in Oregon first.

So why cut a bunch of skinny pine trees in the South? North Carolina has lots of forestland but not nearly as much as Oregon. They have 19.3 million acres of forest compared to our 29.7 million. But, when it comes to cutting timber, they're doing a pretty good at keeping up with us--in fact better. In 1999 North Carolina's forests produced about 793 million cubic feet of timber, which roughly translates to about 9.5 billion board feet.


I have to tell you, in taking a look at the two states I spent considerable time on the websites for both Oregon and North Carolina. Oregon's official website emphasizes conserving natural resources, improving the environment, and guiding land use. But, "land use," or anything like it, doesn' even appear on North Carolina' home page or list of government agencies at www.ncgov.com nor does it come up in a search of the government website.

So I called the North Carolina governor' office, to politely ask about how they coordinate land use planning from the state level. They didn't know, but sent me to the Commerce Department. They didn't know, but sent me to Environment and Natural Resources and if that didn'Twork, they told me to try the Community Assistance Office.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources said that land use planning is pretty much left up to local jurisdictions--meaning they're not expending a good portion of their tax base trying to keep state-required comprehensive plans up to date. And they're making development decisions on their own without much interference from state laws and rules. The governor, however, does appoint members to the Division of Coastal Management. This office gets involved less with zoning and more with preserving public beaches and waterfronts, monitoring erosion rates, conserving wetlands and assessing coastal development--and involves only those counties bordering the coast.


Here's what goes into my garbage can here: just about everything. Beer bottles, soda cans, tin cans, newspapers, wet vegetables--you name it; they're all in there. No additional sacks and cartons with flattened tin cans and papers divided by color. The garbage receptacle (brought to you by Waste Management, Inc.) is bigger than any garbage can I've ever seen and they pick it up twice a week.

In Oregon, on the other hand, all cities with populations over 4,000 must offer curbside recycling (whether the material actually gets recycled or not).


Like Oregon, North Carolina has put considerable effort into attracting the high tech industry. Unlike Oregon, this eastern state went out of its way to affiliate the endeavor with its top universities and managed to locate much of its high tech community between three points--Duke University in Durham, North Carolina State University in Raleigh, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill--which became the well-known Research Triangle Park.

The result is that North Carolina now has 141,500 high tech employees, compared to Oregon's 81,400. Statistics from the American Electronics Association also show that although Oregon's average per person high tech salary is higher ($72,700 compared to their $62,500), North Carolina's total high tech payroll is considerably larger, $8.8 billion compared to $6.2 billion in Oregon.

And the North Carolina setting is more attractive to venture capital investors, who in 2001 poured twice as much into North Carolina firms ($616 million) as they did into Oregon ($258 million). Things apparently look more promising here.


Now I'm sure there will be readers who will tell you that the people are very different in Oregon. That being one of the richest states isn't important. That being a state with a clean environment, where resources are protected is what counts. In fact, a 1992 study by the Oregon Business Council concluded that Portland metropolitan citizens care most of all about the beauty of Oregon (31 percent), environmental quality (13 percent), and that only 2 percent valued a strong, diverse economy and good business climate.

As I grew up in Oregon we often poked fun at the backwardness of the South. But now, it seems, they are passing us by. Oregon has developed a think smaller, anti-business attitude that is approaching no growth. But at what point will the economy tilt so low that there's no attraction for industry at all? What then will become of my beloved Oregon?




Page Updated: Saturday February 25, 2012 05:25 AM  Pacific

Copyright klamathbasincrisis.org, 2001, All Rights Reserved