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2020 Trailblazers in North Carolina

 In October 2020

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By Taylor Wanbaugh, Alyssa Pressler, Megan Bird & David Mildenberg


The joys of small-town living came into greater focus over the last six months as the pandemic induced fear of close contact associated with living in denser urban cities. For many of this year’s Trailblazers, though, life in smaller communities was an easy sell long before COVID-19. Emily McCurry spent a year in Boston after graduating from UNC Asheville before deciding to return to her roots in Haywood County, where the financial adviser says strangers still smile at each other.

This annual feature recognizes thriving business owners and professionals under the age of 40 who work in N.C. cities and towns that have fewer than 100,000 residents. We received nominations for talented people based from Jacksonville near the coast to Waynesville in the mountains. This year’s list spanned a wide variety of occupations, including a coffee roaster, lawyer, hotel manager and engineer.

Demographers say it’s too early to know if the pandemic will reverse the long-term trend in which most population growth in North Carolina occurs around the Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham metro areas. State leaders, the N.C. Rural Center and others are emphasizing investments in rural broadband service that is required for businesses to operate effectively in an increasingly digital economy.

These 2020 Trailblazers are having a significant impact in sustaining their communities. We appreciate their participation and those who made nominations.

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