Robbins Moves to Battle High Poverty Rates
BY JOHN CHAPPELL
More than one-third of people living in Robbins are below the poverty line, and job losses there account for nearly that much of all such losses in the whole county, according to Mayor Theron Bell.
The upper Moore County town is moving on two fronts in hopes of stimulating a local economy plagued by plant closings, lost jobs and high poverty rate.
The November ballot will include two referendums on whether to permit beer, wine and mixed drink sales in Robbins. Town commissioners voted in August to put the votes on the ballot.
The first, if approved by town voters, would mean that hotels and restaurants in Robbins could serve beer as well as wine. Local groceries and convenience stores could sell beer as they now sell wine. The second referendum would let hotels, restaurants and certain other places sell mixed drinks.
The closest place in Moore County where mixed drinks are now served is Carthage, 12 miles away. Mayor Pro Tem Lynn Loy made the motion, which passed unanimously, to request that the Moore County Board of Elections include the questions on the November municipal ballot.
There are currently no hotels, private clubs or convention centers in Robbins. A nonprofit board is working to restore and reopen the Robbins Village Theatre as an economic and cultural magnet for the upper Moore County area.
Board members were able to obtain an N.C. Small Town Economic Prosperity (NCSTEP) grant funded by the Rural Center to buy the old theater building as part of the center's program to build jobs in rural parts of the state. Robbins was one of the first experimental towns to be part of NCSTEP.
Once the Village is complete and open, attractions playing there should draw crowds to Robbins, including some who might stay overnight, drink and dine in local restaurants and shop with local merchants, the town board and the Rural Center hope.
Voters approved wine sales in a previous referendum by a narrow margin, but beer failed, also narrowly.
Since then, the town board de-annexed a section of Robbins at the intersection of N.C. 24/27 and N.C. 705 (known as Robbins Crossing). That property was in Bensalem Township, where off-premises sales are permitted, and the board took the action to help the property owner of a convenience store there compete.
This new move is meant to help businesses inside Robbins compete on the same level as those at the crossroads. If passed, it could also - as several commissioners said - help the town with its effort to brand Robbins as a recreational destination by attracting restaurants, hotels and motels to the area.
A second initiative is the effort to get HUBZone designation so businesses in Robbins can better compete for government contracts.
"Since 1990, the district has lost more than 1,300 jobs, 710 of them since 2000; this amounts to 56 percent of the entire population of the district," Mayor Theron Bell said in a letter she hopes voters will send to state and federal elected officials.
"These job losses amount to 31 percent of the total job losses in all of Moore County," Bell wrote. "This census district has a poverty rate of 36 percent and an official unemployment rate of 20 percent, according to the 2010 census."
Bell wants help persuading the SBA to act now rather than waiting until the census data is published officially in 2012.
HUBZone status would move the area to a shorter line for government contracts, particularly military ones, she said.
"I do not believe I'm asking you or the Small Business Administration to do anything unethical or wrong," she said. "Simply apply the designation I believe we are entitled to based on the existing data and rules without waiting until 2013."
Already one local military manufacturer, American Growler, built in another county where HUBZone status already exists instead of expanding its Robbins plant, according to the mayor.
Contact John Chappell at 783-5841 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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