The following item is submitted by John Locke Foundation CEO Amy Cooke:

“Twenty-five years I have worked to build this business, and in 25 seconds this governor has jerked it away again,” Jason Morgan, owner of Muscleworx Fitness in Wilmington, told a local news station.

Claims for unemployment benefits in North Carolina have topped 1 million. Never have so many jobs been lost so quickly. It seems insurmountable.

Legendary UNC basketball coach Dean Smith said, “There’s a point in every contest when sitting on the sidelines is not an option.” For the future of North Carolina’s economy, that point is now.

In that spirit, the John Locke Foundation will do what it always does: provide a thoughtful, well-researched public policy guide for how North Carolina can navigate challenges ahead. In the soon-to-be-released “Carolina Rebound,” JLF provides the game plan for winning the economic recovery.

Remember the good old days of early March when no one had ever heard the term “social distancing”? North Carolina’s unemployment rate was 3.6%. People enjoyed each other’s company. The most important acronym was ACC.

Now? Businesses are closed, many permanently. Unelected bureaucrats decide who is “essential” and “nonessential.” Masks are the new must-have accessory. Petty tyrants encourage snitching on neighbors who aren’t practicing “safe social distancing.” And PPE has replaced ACC as the dominant acronym.

COVID-19 has been historic and jarring. As of May 12, it has claimed 550 lives, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. Gov. Roy Cooper’s response to the virus has claimed livelihoods from 1 million North Carolinians, according to the Division of Employment Security.

Since March 12, when the John Locke Foundation posted its first COVID-19 Research Brief, we’ve published hundreds of pieces providing policy solutions to help North Carolina “flatten the curve,” avoid stress in our health care system, reduce regulations, and use taxpayer money wisely.

We’re also using our influence in Washington, D.C., to help state and local governments meet the needs of their residents. JLF partnered with the Nebraska-based Platte Institute to lead a national effort highlighting a critical flaw in the $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund as part of the $2 trillion CARES Act.

Together we drafted a letter to bipartisan congressional leaders urging Congress to amend the Coronavirus Relief Fund. As originally written, the law almost compels new government spending rather than giving state and local officials the flexibility they need to continue much needed services and backfill gaping revenue holes.

Twenty-seven other state-based public policy think tanks from Maine to Alaska joined us as signatories. As of this writing, both congressional chambers have introduced legislation addressing the problem.

All of that was just to get us through the weeks and months of the pandemic.

As we look to re-open, we face a very different economic landscape. Just months ago, we were reveling in an economic renaissance that was the envy of the nation. Even though North Carolinians have done everything asked of them, Gov. Cooper is poised to lead us into the unenviable position of last in the nation to re-open.

The challenges we face are historic and enormous. But in a free society, with great challenges comes great innovation. We’ve already witnessed some of it. Ron Joyce, CEO of Joyce Farms, is a prime example. We should be doing everything we can to unleash and ignite North Carolina innovators like Joyce.

Unfortunately, the Cooper administration has thwarted Vitality Fitness owner Steve Pinkerton’s innovative ideas for re-opening. We can’t change Gov. Cooper’s policy decisions that led to this economic catastrophe, but we can make sure that North Carolina rebounds and that freedom and innovation win the future. That’s why we are unveiling Carolina Rebound.

Carolina Rebound focuses on four crucial policy areas: fiscal, health care, education, and regulatory policies. We answer this critical question: What does winning public policy look like in a post COVID-19 world?

Several things we know:

  • We must expand health care capacity.
  • We must allow parents more options for educating their children.
  • We must make permanent the relaxation of regulations that we now know were never needed in the first place.
  • We must prioritize our state budget so that North Carolinians can invest more of their hard-earned dollars to create new jobs.

My JLF colleague Jon Sanders nailed it early on in the coronavirus crisis when he wrote, “This isn’t a fight we expected, but know this: It’s a war a free society is uniquely geared to win.”

When we put our faith in the brilliance of individual ingenuity versus the command and control of a massive bureaucratic state, we solve problems and people thrive. We can’t stop every crisis from happening, but we can create an atmosphere of freedom that encourages creativity and innovation to lessen the impact and win the recovery. That’s Carolina Rebound.

We’ve done this before following the 2007-2009 recession. Prior to COVID-19, North Carolina was a case study for the economic boom that follows the implementation of proven pro-freedom policies.

We will do it again. Follow our playbook, and North Carolina will rebound.