Lt. governor meets with local leaders

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest spoke at a roundtable discussion held by the state office of the National Federation of Independent Business. The meeting was held Monday at the Little Siena restaurant in Marion. (Photo by Mike Conley/McDowell News)

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest met with local government and business leaders Monday to talk about the issues that affect them and their ability to create new jobs. He especially encouraged them to speak out on whatever problems or concerns they have.

“Making your voice heard is the most important thing you can do,” said Forest. “There’s no bureaucrat in Raleigh who can tell you what your needs are.”

On Monday, Forest was the guest speaker at a roundtable meeting hosted by the state office of the National Federation of Independent Business. An architect from Raleigh, he is the first Republican to serve as the state’s lieutenant governor in more than 20 years.

Gregg Thompson, state director of the NFIB, said his organization lobbies on behalf of small businesses. He said the vast majority of the business in North Carolina is considered small.

Forest started off his speech by talking about how recent legislation in Raleigh has improved North Carolina’s standing in the business community. The Tar Heel State went from 44th in the nation to 17th in the nation as far as the business tax climate is concerned, he said.

Since he is the lieutenant governor, Forest also is a member of the board for the statewide community college system and the N.C. Board of Education. Therefore, he took several questions about education from the 20 or so people who attended the roundtable discussion.

N.C. Rep. Josh Dobson, who serves three counties in the state House, asked about the future role of community colleges. Forest said he sees more opportunities for community colleges to form programs and partnerships with four-year colleges and universities.

Amy Johnson with McDowell Cornerstone Credit Union asked Forest about any possible plans for small rural community colleges to be consolidated with one another. Forest said he is not hearing any talk about such plans.

Jerry Broome, director of McDowell County JobLink Career Center, spoke about greater coordination and cooperation among the agencies that seek to help small business owners. “It appears sometimes to the small business or industry that the right hand doesn’t know what the other hand is doing,” said Broome.

Commissioner Michael Lavender asked Forest if he saw any chance of changing the situation with Blue Cross Blue Shield’s monopoly over health insurance. Forest said he supports competition but does not that changing anytime soon.

“That’s the reality of the situation,” he said to Lavender. “I agree with everything you’ve said. I don’t see it happening right now but I would like to.”

Forest was also asked about the state’s infrastructure which today includes a lot more than transportation or water and sewer. It includes high-speed Internet and fiber optic cables too.

Mayor Steve Little asked the lieutenant governor if there was a chance of getting a weekend excursion train which would travel from Marion to Asheville. This would boost tourism and business in McDowell and western North Carolina, he said.

Forest said it would depend on which company owns the railroad tracks and whether or not that company would allow for such an excursion train. Little said the tracks are owned by Norfolk Southern Corp.