Lindsay Moriarty is a graduate student at UNC-Chapel Hill pursuing dual masters’ degrees in Health Behavior and Health Education and City and Regional Planning. She is currently working with the Lumber River Council of Governments through the Carolina Economic Revitalization Corps (CERC).
It takes exactly one day in either the Town of Red Springs or Rowland to realize that economic development comes in myriad forms. For some municipalities, economic development is about job creation and growth, but for others, it’s simply about staying alive.
With a population of just under 4,000 residents, the Town of Red Springs has recently been accepted into the N.C. Small Towns Economic Prosperity Program (NC STEP). With the help of NC STEP, the Town hopes to rehabilitate a 167,000 square-foot manufacturing facility that has been left vacant for the past several years. Town Manager Tony White envisions the property as being an “industrial park under one roof” and speculates that with the incentive of free or drastically reduced rent, the facility could attract hundreds of jobs to Red Springs. Although this project represents a promising opportunity for the Town of Red Springs, securing the funding and technical assistance required to renovate this building and attract tenants remains a formidable challenge.
To supplement this effort, the Town of Red Springs is also addressing economic development through an amalgam of other small projects. Unlike the former, these projects target what are traditionally ‘day-to-day’ issues faced by the town, and include property maintenance and zoning enforcement, branding the town through appropriate media campaigns, and small-scale downtown beautification projects aimed primarily at increasing available green space and minimizing vacant and underutilized lots. Although these projects don’t necessarily pack the same punch as the aforementioned business incubator plan, they are well within the means of the town, and together reflect a practical and comprehensive approach to economic development.
About thirty-minutes south of Red Springs is Rowland, whose population is just over 1,000. Here, where capacity, leadership and funding run low, the need for economic and community development is staggering. Through their participation in the NC STEP program, Rowland was able to identify opportunities for growth along its Main Street corridor; however, due to limited resources, town leaders have not yet been able to take the next steps. Projects related to water and utility management, the arrival of sweepstakes cafes, budget deadlines, and a transitioning leadership are among those that are getting most of the town’s attention and resources. Through rate restructuring plans, contract renegotiation and revisiting and redrafting town ordinances, Rowland hopes to begin chipping away at the challenges that lay ahead.
Red Springs and Rowland are only two of the twenty-seven municipalities served by the Lumber River Council of Governments. Together they represent the broad spectrum of economic development strategies being used in this region of North Carolina, and serve to highlight the importance of context to each. Although Red Springs and Rowland have a great deal in common, their approaches to economic development are very different. Learning to match strategy to circumstance has and will continue to be a challenge for rural towns such as these as they work toward developing sound plans for their futures.