Publisher's perspective: Diversity makes the county great

The U.S. Postal Service letter carriers in Catawba County had an extra burden this weekend, but I know their efforts in delivering an edition of The Observer News Enterprise jam-packed with news and information will benefit our readers greatly.

This weekend’s edition of The O-N-E features our annual Profile publication which always aims to take an in-depth look at the ways Catawba County is such a great place to work, live and play.

In years past, we’ve focused on technology, the “green” movement and the hometown communities that color the county’s wonderful landscape.With each Profile edition we strive to spotlight the good things happening in the places our staff and our readers call home.

This year’s edition focuses on the many ways our county is diverse — from the population and educational offerings to government services and the economy. To put it simply, Profile 2012: Diversified, aims to deliver the image Catawba County might see if it could take a look in the mirror.

And to be sure, our county is a diverse place, and that will only continue in the future. The easiest way to see that is to look at our faces — and you’ll see a sampling of those faces at the top of the front page of each section of Profile 2012. Just like all the “little children” Jesus loves, the people of Catawba County are “red and yellow, black and white,” and Profile 2012 uses Census 2010 information to quantify the racial make-up of our population, while also exploring how these demographics challenge and benefit the county’s communities.

The heritage of our citizens isn’t the only way our county is diverse, however.

Just look at the business landscape, but be warned when you do, there might be a hint of negative news to be found. While we aim for Profile editions to be full of positive news, sometimes, when it comes to our economy, we have to cut through a little bad news to get to the good.

And while our county has lost upwards of 40,000 jobs since 2000 — as detailed in Profile 2012 — those job losses are hopefully resulting in some promising prospects. Where once our industrial economy was almost entirely composed of furniture and textile manufacturing, today the landscape is vastly more diverse with manufacturing, commercial retail business and new niches like information technology or energy production. Even some of the county’s traditional industries are still faring well. That is certainly good news for our community, and based on what is reported in Profile 2012, I think we can expect that diversification will continue.

There’s another area of diversity explored in our special edition — the age of our population. As we’ve already reported in the pages of The O-N-E, the population of our community is getting older, and that is going to increase dramatically as “Baby Boomers” continue retiring. In some ways, this is certainly good news — it opens up a new array of opportunities for businesses focused on serving needs of retirees. At the same time there are challenges. How will our county’s local governments deal with new demands on social services? Are there ways for resources to be pooled to meet the ever-growing demand of an aging population?

We explore some of these topics in Profile 2012, as OUTLOOK profiles the senior population of our county.
Of course as the population ages, other issues become apparent. Young people are leaving, and in a lot of cases they aren’t coming back. Why? What can our communities do to become more attractive to young people? And how can we keep those young people here?

These, too, are topics we approach in Profile 2012, even though, in some cases, the news isn’t entirely positive, it is a realistic examination of the county.

Sometimes it is important that, during the course of highlighting our attributes, we also realize our faults. Our hope is that if we can get to know our county more completely — if we can help our readers better know their neighbors — we can all create a better understanding of our similarities and differences, and work together to help improve the future for the place we can all be proud to call home.

Michael Willard is the publisher of The Observer News Enterprise. His column appears in the weekend print edition of The O-N-E.