Will Lambe is the Director of the Community & Economic Development Program and the Community-Campus Partnership.
The second of three Governor’s forums on Small Town Competitiveness was held at Davidson-Davie Community College on September 28. As mentioned in a previous post, forums are an opportunity for local leaders from small towns in North Carolina to interact with the Governor about opportunities and challenges in community and economic development. Resource providers such as the Golden LEAF Foundation, NC Rural Center, USDA, NC Commerce, School of Government and others are on-hand to meet with participants about various resources available to support local priorities.
The following is a summary of the issues and priorities facing small towns in North Carolina that emerged during the second forum in Davidson County.
- A former Human Resources manager from a furniture company in Lexington, NC described the circumstances that led to him being laid-off in 2008, which he blamed on competition from China and government regulation. He returned to school, at the age of 50, at the community college to upgrade his skills, but continues to struggle. He asked the governor to continue working to help laid-off manufacturing workers.
- The mayor of Waxhaw, NC, described her town as one of the fastest growing towns in the fastest growing county in state (Union Co). Waxhaw has a population of approximately 3000 people, which is expected to increase to 25000-35000 people by 2030. The mayor asked the governor to consider making resources available to communities that aren’t “distressed” now, but have the potential to struggle in the future if they don’t prepare. According to the mayor, Waxhaw needs to plan for growth and prepare infrastructure.
- The mayor of Pilot Mountain, NC, described that in 1999-2000, the town lost 1800 jobs. Pilot Mtn joined the NC STEP program, participated in the Golden LEAF Community Assistance Initiative. They founded the Pilot Center and Pilot Mtn Pride. Pilot Center provides training in partnership with the community college. Pilot Mtn Pride provides produce to area restaurants, grocery stores and institutions.
- The economic development director for Warren County relayed to the governor that two important groups are moving back to Warren County: young professionals returning home and early retirees coming home to invest in the county. He asked for the governor to consider programming that focuses resources on these two subsets of the population.
- The mayor of Creedmoor, NC described his community as a small community in the Raleigh watershed. He asked the governor to help communities with limited resources maintain safe water and wastewater treatment.
- A resident of Stanley County suggested that the “common people” of Stanley County are frustrated with the county over ongoing negotiations with Alcoa. He asked the governor to lean on local leaders to create jobs.
- An advocate working with laid-off Hispanic workers in Siler City, NC described the enormous magnitude of the challenge in western Chatham County, following the closure of a major poultry producer. She requested that the governor help provide resources to Hispanic families separated from employment in the poultry industry.
- The manager of Bald Head Island, NC, described his town’s interest in maintaining the natural resources in and around his community. However, he told the governor that his town struggles to work productively with state regulators on environmental issues.
- The mayor of Coolleemee, NC described how her community was attempting to take advantage of historic assets, especially mill properties and the textile heritage of the region. She asked the governor for resources to help develop a plan that will emphasize the textile history and heritage trail, but that may not involve immediate job creation (which handicaps their efforts in applying for grants).
- A city council candidate from Lexington, NC, asked the governor for assistance with a veteran’s center in Lexington. Also suggested that the governor could help with Winston Salem veteran’s hospital.
- A community developer from Lexington, NC described the challenges faced by “sandwich cities,” in terms of grants. Like others, Lexington is not eligible for certain kinds of grants because they are not in a Tier I county and not considered rural.
- A downtown developer from Burlington, NC described a local success story with the Main Street Solutions grant program. New businesses are opening in downtown.
- A housing consultant working in Pender County, NC described his experience working with the Division of Community Assistance (DCA) to provide infrastructure funding for a housing project in Albemarle. DCA helped provide asbestos removal in housing project in Ahoskie. He expressed a need for more financial options to develop affordable housing for seniors.
- The mayor of Wilkesboro, NC asked the governor to help small towns compete on a more level playing field in negotiations with site selectors on economic development projects. He requested that the governor consider ways to force site selectors to reveal more information so that local governments can make better deals.
- The mayor of Pittsboro, NC requested that the governor work with state agencies to simplify application processes for state resources.
- The mayor of Conover described his town’s 26 acre city-owned site in downtown, formerly occupied by Broyhill. The site has been cleaned up and includes a depot for train service and a manufacturing solutions center to help train local workers. Site also includes 1 million square feet of empty manufacturing space in downtown.
A summary of issues from the third and final forum at Haywood Community College will be posted next week.
Will Lambe authored the NC Rural Center report, Small Towns, Big Ideas, and he served as Director of the Community and Economic Development Program at the School of Government from 2009 to 2014.