A group of businesses, higher education institutions, and nonprofit organizations met virtually last month in North Carolina to discuss the economic condition of the state’s eastern region. The East Carolina Alliance has, for nearly a decade, met to build consensus and corporate will around critical areas of development for the region, from transportation to tourism, corporate recruitment, and workforce development.
Think of it as your average Chamber of Commerce, but because it is North Carolina, don’t think of it as an organization with friendly views of East Carolina’s future as it will include Black communities or Black institutions like Elizabeth City State University.
The historically Black university, an essential financial, industrial, and cultural staple in Pasquotank County, is not a member of the alliance. It takes a long, hard look to find ECSU among the alliance’s archives on educational and labor training options in the region, but it is quite easy to find East Carolina University’s name and impact throughout the mission and work of the alliance.
If we were to assume alternative scenarios outside of the region’s power players trying to box out a historically Black institution, very few of them make the alliance look like a legitimate operation working for the best interest of the region.
Let’s assume that ECSU did not want or did not know that it could have a role within the alliance, or that it couldn’t afford its way into the consortium as an investor; that doesn’t prohibit the alliance from identifying Elizabeth City State as a critical element in the region’s tourism, job creation prospects, and employee training infrastructure.
The alliance’s own research indicates that residency in the region will increase among all ethnic groups over the next decade, aligning with an increased demand for college access. Pasquotank County is in the bottom percentile of per capita income but in the top half of its median income at more than $48,200 in median household income — largely in part to the presence of military personnel and employees of ECSU living in the region.
These stats suggest that the county and surrounding areas might be good locations for commercial and residential development, which means more consideration for access to primary roadways and small business development.
But more than this, ECSU offers some of the state’s most unique training programs that will produce professionals in growing regional industries like aerospace manufacturing and emergency management. The alliance almost goes out of its way to conceal ECSU as an educational option — listing the university among a bottom-tier list of satellite campuses and programs in the area including Central Michigan University.
No reputable organization charged with improving the quality of life of a region and its residents leaves an entire university out of the conversation, especially one that neighbors of all races so ardently defended when ECSU was faced with closure just seven years ago. The University of North Carolina System, the North Carolina Legislature, and everyone else in between has to make this right as a matter of economic, racial and political remedy for the years ECSU was left of out critical strategic planning and corporate networking.
Or maybe they don’t have to do anything — after all, they’ve been neglecting ECSU for all of these years, and seemingly no one was the wiser.