Carthage to Consider STEP Application
Carthage could seek to follow Robbins into the Small Town Economic Prosperity (NC STEP) program.
The state’s Center for Rural Development launched its experimental effort at locally driven economic development with Robbins one of the first municipalities and community clusters to take part.
Then Mayor Mickey Brown asked a town commissioner, Theron Bell, to head up the town’s effort to win one of the first slots.
Robbins was successful, and Bell — who subsequently served as mayor herself — credits a lot of progressive changes in her hometown to its participation in NC STEP.
Among them was a grant that provided funds for many economy-stimulating projects, most recently money enabling a nonprofit board to buy the old Village Theater in the heart of town.
That foundation is moving forward on restoring that theater to a showplace offering performances and other events to draw visitors to Robbins.
Bell will speak to the Carthage Town Board at its first meeting of the year at 6 p.m. next Tuesday, according to Mayor Lee McGraw.
“I am looking forward to hearing her,” McGraw said. “The North Carolina League of Municipalities supports it. They recommend it, with the right application, and Carthage? We need it.”
NC STEP is a three-year process that begins with bringing residents who live in or around a participating community in to share their ideas about the place and how they would like to brand or redefine it. Out of that — with help from coaches supplied by the Rural Center — a plan is developed.
Communitywide meetings at the start turned into recruiting events. Residents rolled up their sleeves and got involved helping the town access itself and chart new directions.
“One of the first things we have to do is set goals, if we are going to get anywhere,” McGraw said. “This is just a goal for our town.”
Many of those early sessions in the Robbins Town Hall grew into a committee that met in the back room at one of the new businesses sparked by the STEP process: the Deep River Coffee Co. that outgrew that location and recently had to move down the block to bigger quarters.
Bell, who has been working hard to bring the Village Theater dream to reality, will tell the Carthage board how Robbins won its highly competitive race to be one of the first NC STEP sites, and how the program worked there.
Carthage’s new appearance committee has been talking about a number of different ways to improve the look of the old county seat. Ideas at Monday night’s meeting included planters in the downtown area on streets that radiate from the historic courthouse square, but talk has also focused on getting the kind of help the NC STEP program can offer.
While a decision about making any application cannot be made before commissioners consider the matter, Town Manager Carol Sparks has been wasting no time seeking supporting letters. Once came right away from Patrick Coughlin, president and CEO of the Moore County Chamber of Commerce.
“It was very positive,” Sparks said. “It’s been on the table ever since the Appearance Committee was appointed. They’ve been discussing it.
“We are going to talk to the board about it at the meeting next week, see if they are OK with it. I called Theron Bell about coming, and she said she would be delighted, she would help in any way she could.”
Coughlin saw firsthand the effect NC STEP had on Robbins. One of his first experiences after coming to this county to work for the Chamber was going up there to attend the ceremony beside the Old Elise Depot launching NC STEP.
Other supporting letters are also coming in ahead of next week’s presentation, according to Sparks — even though no decision has been made about applying.
“It is just in the discussion phase right now,” Sparks said. “We will hear what it entails. We already ap-proached individuals about writing us letters of support, because the application has to be in by Feb. 10.
“If the board tells us OK, we have already done some preliminary work. I called Patrick and asked if he would do a letter on behalf of the Chamber, and he already did — a very, very nice letter.”
McGraw said he is eager to bring more people who live in and around the county seat into play working on new goals, new ways to make the town — and its economy — thrive.
“Empower them,” McGraw said. “We all talk enough. Let’s do something.”
Contact John Chappell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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