LUMBERTON — A major state magazine is reporting in its latest edition that Robeson County has more people living under the poverty level than any other county in North Carolina with a population of greater than 65,000.
“Business North Carolina” is basing its report on 2012 poverty figures provided by the North Carolina Justice Center.
“A study of the state’s 39 counties with populations greater than 65,000 reveals that 10 have at least 20 percent of residents living below the poverty level,” the magazine says. “Half of these are in the East.”
According to the report, 30.4 percent of Robeson County’s population lives below the poverty level. This includes 43 percent children.
Other counties on the “top 10 list” in that population range, with poverty levels ranging between 20.4 and 28.3 percent, are: Wilkes, Pitt, Wayne, Surry, Caldwell, Burke, Brunswick, Durham, and Nash.
The poverty level for a family of four in 2012 was $23,050. Robeson County is considered by the United States Department of Agriculture to be one of 535 “persistent poverty” counties, with 20 percent or more of the population having been below the poverty level in each census since 1960.
To help with economic development and job creation, Robeson County is designated by the state as a Tier 1 county, meaning it is economically distressed and at the front of the line for a variety of state funding opportunities that are available to assist in economic development.
Tier designations determine how much tax credits are available for job creation and business property investment in a number of industries, according to the N.C. Department of Commerce. These industries include manufacturing, motor sports, aircraft maintenance and repair, air courier services, warehousing, customer service call centers, research and development, electronic shopping and mail order houses, and wholesale trade and information technology.
“With all the government programs we have (to fight poverty and create jobs), it is obvious something is not working,” said Lumberton businessman Bo Biggs.
Already plagued with high unemployment and difficulty in recruiting new industries, Robeson County’s No. 1 poverty listing in a prominent magazine targeted to the business community is another obstacle to overcome when trying to convince business owners that Robeson County is a good place for them to do business.
“This makes it very hard for Greg to do his job,” Biggs said, referring to Greg Cummings, Robeson County’s economic developer in charge of industrial recruitment.
Cummings told The Robesonian on Thursday that the cause of high poverty and jobless rates in Robeson County can be attributed to one thing — the global market.
“We have been losing jobs to China, Mexico, and Central America,” Cummings said. “Companies are shutting down. New businesses aren’t locating here, and existing businesses can’t compete.
“The problem is with the federal government and how it is dealing with imports and exports,” Cummings said.
Ronnie Hunt, the interim executive director at COMtech Park in Pembroke, agrees that negative reports in magazines and other written publications can make it hard for industrial recruitment.
“Businesses owners read this and assume all kinds of reasons why people here have no jobs and the poverty level is high,” he said. “But if they take time to look, they see that we have a good rail system, four-lane highways that run to the north, south, east and west, and an airport.”
Hunt said that more help is needed from state officials in promoting Robeson County as a good place to do business.
“If they give us in the county an opportunity to meet with businesses wanting to locate in North Carolina, we’ll sell ourselves,” he said.