Ferrel Guillory, then a writer-in-residence at MDC, was driving on I-40 through the high-tech, corporate-filled Research Triangle Park between Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, N.C., one day in 1995, listening to a radio interview with then-U.S. Rep. Newt Gingrich. As Gingrich talked about the failure of activist state and federal governments, Guillory looked around and saw a disconnect.
“I’m listening to this as I drive through RTP and thinking to myself that it doesn’t look like failure here, that this had come about through both public and private action and was becoming the crown jewel of this region,” recalls Guillory, formerly a Washington correspondent and political columnist for The News & Observer and currently a senior fellow at MDC. “It signified something going on that wasn’t simply failure.”
From that drive emerged the idea for MDC’s State of the South series, reports designed “not to sugarcoat or paint over the issues of the South,” Guillory says, “but to tell a story about what the South was becoming, how it was growing, and identifying some of the underlying issues. It was to be a good documenter of both how we’ve moved forward and how we’ve not, and come to grips with it.”
That led to the first edition of State of the South in 1996 and has remained MDC’s consistent mission through this ninth edition, which comes out on Tuesday. Entitled “Building an Infrastructure of Opportunity for the Next Generation, ” it takes a deep look at prospects and challenges for the region’s 15- to -24-year-olds, featuring analysis of data that includes region-wide reductions in K-12 and higher education spending, state-by-state looks at where young people are dropping out of the education-to-career continuum, and how some of the South’s most thriving cities may be rated at the high end of Forbes’ “Best for Business” list but also are near the top of less desirable lists that indicate serious inequities threatening their communities’ wellbeing.