Governor Perdue is holding three forums on Small Town Competitiveness, the first of which was held at Martin County Community College on September 16. Details and agenda for the forums are available here. Forums are an opportunity for local leaders from small towns in North Carolina to interact with the governor directly. 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 community and economic development.
The following is a summary of the issues and priorities facing small towns in North Carolina that emerged during the first forum in Martin County. Much of the discussion focused on hurricane clean-up and recovery following Hurricane Irene.
- The mayor of Duck, NC, discussed the need for a continued focus from state agencies on assistance with hurricane cleanup, including loans and grants for recovery.
- The mayor of Roseboro, NC, discussed the town’s positive experience in the Small Town Main Street Program, which has resulted in the creation of 40 part-time and 25 full time jobs. The mayor asked the governor to help expand the use of the NC Capital Access Program (NC CAP), which is designed to help encourage banks to lend by providing loan guarantees. According to the mayor, NC CAP is not a familiar program to bankers at local bank branches, particularly those in rural communities. The mayor also requested assistance from the governor and her administration on how crime data is presented on the Internet, which the mayor contends can portray small towns in a negative light.
- The mayor of Warsaw, NC, presented three local challenges to the governor: lack of affordable high-speed Internet, the need for a visitor’s center at the town’s rest stop on I-40 to direct tourists off the highway and toward regional destinations, and the need for a rail line between Castle Hayne and Wallace, to support a possible inland terminal in the region. The mayor elaborated on the town’s plan to use its taxing authority to build and staff a visitor’s center.
- The mayor of Weldon, NC, relayed her excitement regarding several positive developments in Weldon including, through participation in the NC STEP program and the Small Town Main Street Program, the creation of 16 new businesses in the last 12 months, and façade grants to clean up downtown storefronts.
- The mayor of Messick, NC, presented the governor with a major challenge in the wake of Hurricane Irene. In Messick, 90 percent of homeowners were evacuated and now need assistance with recovery and, eventually, funding to elevate homes from future flooding.
- The mayor of Winfall, NC, discussed the critical importance of water and sewer infrastructure.
- The mayor of Louisburg, NC, described her community’s need for housing for teachers, police officers, and other young professionals.
- The mayor of Scotland Neck, NC described his community’s challenge in terms of housing, with more than 50 percent of units below minimum standard. The mayor requested assistance with tourism along the Roanoke River to help small towns expand their declining tax base. The mayor described the Roanoke River Mayor’s Association, which is attempting to attract new investment along the River through collaborative projects.
- A member of the planning board from Bailey, NC, suggested that the governor help put idle resources to work by creating a way for unemployed workers to work on public projects that support small town development.
- The mayor of Plymouth, NC, brought to the governor’s attention an important issue for his community; that a fish kill from Williamston to Albemarle will take a major economic toll on his region.
- An economic developer from Bertie County described a key challenge in eastern, NC; that natural gas lines to support economic development are very difficult to finance.
- The mayor from Elizabeth City, NC, asked the governor for her support in reducing electric rates in eastern North Carolina, which can be stifling for business and citizens.
- A representative with the SBTDC asked the governor for assistance with the HUB Zone Designation legislation.
- The mayor of Wake Forest asked the governor to consider ways that the state can support funding for entrepreneurial start-up businesses.
A summary of issues from the second forum at Davidson-Davie Community College, held on September 28th, 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.