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Legislators talk jobs, schools and mental health

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MILLS RIVER — Breakfast at the Sierra Nevada taproom Friday featured legislative leaders from Henderson, Transylvania and Buncombe counties talking about their priorities in the upcoming legislative session.

Speaking at the event were North Carolina State Sen. Chuck Edwards and state Reps. Cody Henson and Chuck McGrady. Before the General Assembly convenes in May, the breakfast gave the legislators a chance to discuss their priorities going forward. Some of the topics included workforce training, mental health care and drug addiction.

Edwards opened by emphasizing the economic strength of North Carolina, saying that if it was its own country it would boast the 19th largest economy in the world. Despite that, he feels that the Legislature can do more to grease the wheels for business.

 “There’s a study by Appalachian State University and North Carolina State University from a short time ago that indicates in North Carolina there’s $25 billion of revenue annually that is not taking place because of unnecessary regulation,” he said.

Edwards went on to address the skills gap, saying that there are 6,000 information and technology jobs and other jobs in the medical and mechatronics industries that are currently unfilled because of a skills gap. However, both Edwards and representative Henson said that the community college system in North Carolina has been effective in helping to close that gap. Henson pointed to Blue Ridge Community College’s brewing, distilling and fermentation partnership with Oskar Blues as an example of relevant job training.

McGrady emphasized that education funding will be a priority. Henson said that the state House is working on streamlining the process of moving money from the state down to local school systems, but claimed that currently that money changes hands too often in the trickle-down process.

All three legislators agreed that mental health is a priority issue, if a complicated one.

“Groups have coalesced and so you’ve got major mental health providers, hospitals, the sheriff’s department, the education system and all the non-profits currently working to try to come up with maybe a local approach to dealing with mental health that they would then come back to us, the legislators, and say ‘can we do a trial process here in Henderson County?’” McGrady said.

Henson said mental health facilities will bring greater ongoing costs.

“We can fund to have a bed for every single person in the state of North Carolina, but at the end of the day we got to have providers to take care of those people as well and actually evaluate them and give them the treatment that they need,” Henson said.

The event was produced in partnership by the Henderson County Chamber of Commerce and the Brevard/Transylvania Chamber of Commerce and was sponsored by Park Ridge Health and Duke Energy.