Over the July 4th holiday we experienced the traditional red, white and blue salutes to our nation, along with tributes paid the patriots who signed the Declaration of Independence. The 56 delegates to the Continental Congress were well-educated, wealthy and influential in their respective colonies. Among them were three from North Carolina: Joseph Hewes, a merchant and Justice of the Peace from Edenton; John Penn, a farmer from Island Creek in Granville County; and William Hooper, a lawyer from New Hanover County.
Many hours were spent in 1775-76 debating, but, after lengthy deliberation, they affixed their names to the Declaration of Independence. I found myself wondering if I would have signed it. Would you have taken such a momentous step? They were committing treason against the most powerful monarch of the most powerful country then known, effectively signing their own death warrants.
Perhaps you know what happened to them, but it bears remembering. Five were captured by the British as traitors and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. One had his ships captured by the British navy and was forced to sell all to pay his debts, dying in rags. Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or hardships of the war. Vandals or soldiers looted the properties of eight, threatening and forcing many to move repeatedly; another was driven from his dying wife's bedside, later himself dying from exhaustion and a broken heart.
Not only were they bold and courageous, they were visionaries, people who dreamed of a land free from tyrants, a country of opportunities to live a better life. They were imbued with a desire to serve the public good.
North Carolina has had many visionaries. In my own lifetime a few come to mind. Former Governor Kerr Scott who had the vision for farmers to get out of the mud and have paved roads to transport their crops to market. Scott initiated the "Go Forward" program that paved thousands of miles of roads in a single year. In 1952, with our state economy languishing, then-Governor Luther Hodges joined in a vision with others to create The Research Triangle Park, using our three research universities as foundations to assist in innovation, invention and corporate job creation. Hodges, along with Dallas Herring had the vision for people to learn new job skills by developing our statewide system of community colleges. Kerr Scott's son, Bob, visualized the great benefits of consolidating the state funded colleges into today's 16-campus University of North Carolina System, with Bill Friday tasked to make that vision a reality. In 1980, Governor Jim Hunt recognized the future of electronic technology and had a vision for our state to play a role, helping create the Microelectronics Center of North Carolina. Hunt and Governor Jim Martin saw the future for life sciences and spearheaded The NC Biotechnology Center in 1984, priming our state for new product developments and jobs.
Yesterday's public sector investments are reaping huge dividends for North Carolina today. In 2021 we reported 34 recruitment and expansion announcements by life sciences companies that promised 4,800 new jobs. Apple revealed they would make a $1 billion investment, resulting in at least 3,000 jobs. VinFast recently declared it would build a new line of electric vehicles and battery manufacturing in our state, creating 7,500 jobs. Boom Supersonic added to our luster by proclaiming they would revive supersonic air travel by building new airplanes, employing some 1,700. Toyota is going to manufacture the next generation of batteries for electric vehicles, with a payroll expected to exceed 1,700 new jobs. And the just-passed state budget has a major appropriation for a prospective computer chip maker that would add another 2,000 jobs.
The message is clear: Visionary leadership, coupled with innovative public sector initiatives have propelled North Carolina into being a desired place to invest, live, work and play. Today's rewards for yesterday's investments.
But a follow-up question begs answering: Where are today's visionary leaders and the big, bold futuristic ideas that will ensure future prosperity and betterment of our way of life? At this moment we don't see them. Let us hope they will come forward and that we will be receptive enough to encourage and assist them.
Our signers were dreamers 246 years ago. We owe it to them to continue that rich heritage.
Tom Campbell is a Hall of Fame North Carolina Broadcaster and columnist who has covered North Carolina public policy issues since 1965. He recently retired from writing, producing and moderating the statewide half-hour TV program NC SPIN that aired 22 1/2 years. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.