Improving the quality of life and economic opportunities in small towns was the subject of a day-long seminar at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
Sponsored by UNCP’s Regional Center for Economic, Community and Professional Development, the seminar was attended by approximately 125, who came from as near as Pembroke and as far away as Roxboro, N.C. near Virginia.
Entrepreneur and small town turnaround expert Jack Schultz gave two presentations: “Boomtown USA: 71/2 Keys to Big Success in Small Towns” and “Hometown Entrepreneurs: Your New Paradigm Shift in Economic Development.”
“It doesn’t just happen; it happens because people with passion get involved,” Schultz said. “When our town died, we decided we had to take things into our own hands.”
Schultz outlined numerous case studies and the keys to success from his book “Boomtown USA.” He said stimulating entrepreneurship is important and praised COMtech, the nearby business incubator, and the Thomas Family Center for Entrepreneurship, UNCP new business outreach program.
“The next generation called millennials, ages 10-27, will be the most entrepreneurial generation in our nation’s history,” Schultz said. “They need education and support.”
Schultz recommended “angel funds,” which are revolving small loan pools for new or expanding businesses. He also recommended that small towns learn to embrace change or the “teeter-totter factor,” as Schultz called it.
He warned to beware of CAVE people in every town or “citizens against virtually everything.” He also advised communities to work together, avoiding what he call the “Friday night lights syndrome,” where every community plays football and competes against the interest of other local communities.
Jacquelyn Hampton and Bridgette Keaton, who were attending the seminar, are good examples of communities working together. They formed a community development organization call the BEST Cluster, comprised of the small towns of Bolton, East Arcadia and Sandyfield in Columbus County.
“This meeting was informative,” Hampton said.
“It keeps our dream alive,” Keaton said. “It was uplifting and educational.”
“We get ideas at meetings like this and take them back to our towns,” Hampton said.
Merilyn Newell, mayor pro-tem of Roxboro and a banker, drove three hours to get to the forum.
“My head is spinning with good ideas,” she said. “The message in small towns is that our young people are leaving and knowing there are ways to keep them is something we will work on.”
Newell said her town is not unlike many others that have suffered manufacturing losses.
“We know there are no quick fixes, but adversity can be very positive,” she said. “We’re re-inventing our business structure.”
Also speaking was Jim Dittoe, author of “90 Ways to a Winning Community: A Guide to Achieving Your Community Vision.”
A panel discussion followed with Patrick Woodie, vice president of Busines and Natural Resources for the North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center; Irma McPherson, area specialist for rural development for the U.S. Department of Agriculture; Mark Roberts, executive director of the North Carolina Department of Commerce’s Rural Development Center and Tony McEwen, economic development director for Congressman Mike McIntyre.
Sylvia Pate, director of the Regional Center was the host.
“This was just an excellent program today on a topic that is incredibly important to nearly every small town in our region,” Pate said. “We were very pleased with the turnout and the quality of the program.”
For more about this or other Regional Center programs, please call 910.775.4000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.