NORTH MOORE NOTEBOOK: Robbins STEPs Into High Gear
Robbins is going to town.
In this case, the town is Raleigh. For two and a half days this week, town clerk Debra Cockman will accompany Commissioners Theron Bell and Mark Garner to the state capital for an NC STEP intensive workshop.
It marks the real start of the town's three-year participation in the N.C. Rural Center's experimental program to help distressed small towns restore economic prosperity.
"I think -- I hope -- we will get our coach while we're up there," Bell told a gathering of concerned residents last Thursday at the Town Hall.
That group, drawn from all over Moore County but particularly from the Foothills area, is the NC STEP Support Team. Shopkeepers, business owners, potters, hospital workers and others -- along with representatives from the Chamber of Commerce, the Northern Moore Family Resource Center (NMFRC), Northern Moore Tomorrow (NMT) and other organizations -- meet regularly.
They'll be doing it for three years, as the town of Robbins works out a new self-understanding. The days of factory focus, when dwellers in the area looked for some new industrial concern to set up a factory and production line, are gone, team members say.
From the time two centuries ago when two Pennsylvania gunsmiths opened the Kennedy Rifle works on the banks of Bear Creek (and the settlement known as Hazel Neck became Mechanics Hill) to the coming of the railroad and the first town map (registered as Elise, N.C., after the railroad owner's daughter) through prosperous textile times (when the town named itself after the mill owner, Karl Robbins) this village -- economic center of the Foothills of Moore County -- had come to look for some savior: an industrialist looking to find a factory site.
Now the town is looking much closer to home, embarking on a three-year quest to marshal native resources both cultural and natural to forge a new identity.
It's renewing the Old Elise Depot as a transportation museum and cultural center for the Foothills area. It's building on the fact that most potters up and down Highway 705 -- now dubbed "The Pottery Highway" -- live and work in Moore County.
Robbins' energy shown by winning NC STEP status is already drawing unexpected investment interest: American Growler has started its assembly line turning out new military vehicles for the U.S. Marine Corps. Fibrowatt U.S.A. is considering the Robbins area as a possible site for one of its three N.C. power plants. Ray Ogden, of Partners in Progress, is showing Robbins area sites in response to growing interest in the area.
Mayor Mickey Brown introduced John Dilday, organizer of an annual astronomical event, the Mid-Atlantic Star Party (MASP -- www.masp.org) to the team meeting. Afterwards he and Dilday went out to find a new site for the gathering so it would be able to remain in the area.
At the Raleigh meeting, Robbins' STEP representatives will be working with Rural Center people to chart the first directions the town will take on its three-year demonstration project.
A coach will spend the three years helping the town marshal resources, find grants and other support, and coordinate multiple efforts over the period.
That effort gets its real start with this trip.
John Chappell can be reached at 783-5841 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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