Leading from the center

BY DAVID DELANEY, Guest Columnist
Posted 3/2/21

According to some calculations, Chatham County (Goldston, specifically) is North Carolina’s geographic center. Of course, there is no intrinsic meaning or value in such a claim. But just as …

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Leading from the center

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Posted

According to some calculations, Chatham County (Goldston, specifically) is North Carolina’s geographic center. Of course, there is no intrinsic meaning or value in such a claim. But just as geography has shaped human evolution, it unquestionably impacts culture and society today.

It is exciting to think about ways that Chatham’s central location will shape the next generation of residents. Trends in technology, economic opportunity, and social equity that are getting national headlines are sure to play important roles.

Chatham is already home to many technology innovators, executives, and global companies. With the Research Triangle on one side and the U.S. Hwy. 421 Carolina Corridor on the other, tech job growth is certain. But for whom, and when?

Ironically, most of Chatham County struggles to get broadband internet while the county government recovers from a debilitating Russian cybercrime attack. This is the duality of the digital age — cyberspace is inherently insecure, but it is essential infrastructure for community growth and wellbeing.

Cyber insecurity and distribution disparity are technology and policy problems. To solve them, diverse teams with innovative, collaborative outlooks are required. Tech solutions also require lab-intensive research, usually through universities, governments, and companies.

A major jumpstart in this area comes from UNC’s Innovate Carolina, which announced plans to expand to Mosaic in Pittsboro. More commitments of this type will be required to put Chatham residents at the heart of innovation that spurs the local economy and solves global digital-age problems.

However, as today’s economy emerges from a pandemic slough with forecasts of 4 - 6 percent growth, the county’s pre-pandemic east-west economic divide is likely to persist. Research-driven new knowledge is as critical to eliminating that divide as it is to developing new technology.

For example, mid-20th century thinking pointed to poverty as a driver of crime. New research in many fields reveals more complex relationships. It also shows that people of color — especially African-Americans — are disproportionately arrested and imprisoned even at the highest economic levels. The societal problems clearly run much deeper than one’s economic status.

To ignore this new knowledge is to disadvantage Chatham County’s children and potential to define new, better community goals. To embrace this new knowledge is to intentionally improve public and private institutions — governments, companies, laws, policies — so they impact all community members equitably.

Living at the physical center of the state is less important than intentionally living at the center of the nation’s 21st-century identity and accomplishments. But geography is unquestionably vital to a community’s sense of self and place in the world.

The nation’s greatest heritage is, arguably, improving democracy, exploring, and innovating. Yet each of those comes with oppressive institutional and historical baggage, especially for Native communities, African-Americans, other people of color, women, immigrants, workers, and refugees.

It would be quite an accomplishment if the county can find its center among diverse communities, histories, political preferences, and ideals to lead and thrive together from that new center.

David G. Delaney served as acting associate general counsel for cybersecurity and infrastructure security at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security from 2004 to 2013. He is co-founder of Chatham Tech Talk, an association of tech enthusiasts that holds public discussions of technology and related issues.

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