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Sunday, June 16, 2024

Building up Main Street, North Carolina

North Carolina tourism depends on its great mountains and beaches, but locals know we also also have great small towns away from the crowds. Places such as Statesville, which widened its downtown sidewalks to encourage people to get out of their cars and walk. One of my favorite small towns in North Carolina is Washington. Few things are more relaxing than taking a stroll along the boardwalk on the Pamlico River to see the turtles and the boats docked.

The boardwalk in the eastern North Carolina town of Washington.

A few weekends ago, I was with my wife in Wilkesboro and we “gave the local guy a try” at Dooley’s Tavern and Grill. Our dog, Biscuit, was with us, so we ate outside. Our server brought a water dish for Biscuit before taking our orders. Children played in a nearby splash pad on a sunny, summer Sunday as I enjoyed the daily special of meatloaf and mashed potatoes and gravy, which left no room for dessert. I like small towns.

I may be burying the lead, but the purpose of this story is some news from the N.C.  Department of Commerce. Dozens of small towns in North Carolina leveraged $684.8 million n public and private investment in the last fiscal year to bring economic growth to Main Streets in the state.

Those 79 communities, which stretch from Murphy to Manteo, saw 365 new businesses and almost 3,000 jobs added to their downtown districts during the year, according to state officials. Results reflect reporting from the state’s 70 designated Main Street and nine Small Town Main Street communities active in the two programs. Click here for a map of North Carolina cities with Main Street programs.

N.C. Main Street Program

Current populations for the designated Main Street communities’ range from 1,438 (Pilot Mountain) people to 108,229 (Concord), although all communities were under 50,000 people at the time of their original designation.

In fiscal year 2022-23, Main Street communities reported:

  • $673.5 million in downtown public and private investment;

  • 2,871 new jobs;

  • 345 new businesses;

  • 305 building renovations;

  • 405 façade improvements; and

  • 112,952 volunteer hours with a value of $3.3 million.

Small Town Main Street Program

The state’s Small Town Main Street program operates in communities with populations below 5,000 that have a volunteer-driven downtown revitalization initiative.

Small Town Main Street communities reported the following statistics from their 2022-23 work:

  • $11.1 million in downtown public and private investment;

  • 98 new jobs;

  • 20 new businesses;

  • 26 building renovations;

  • 22 facade improvements; and

  • 15,135 volunteer hours with a value of $451,931

North Carolina’s small towns are making it happen. And sometimes they just make it happen by preserving and revitalizing their older and historic business districts.

In the October issue of Business North Carolina magazine we profile 23 Trailblazers who are 40 or under who are also thriving and making a difference in a North Carolina city with a population of under 100,000. Nominations came in for people across the state, stretching from Franklin to Ocean Isle Beach. All  have interesting stories, and as those profiled put it, they are making big dreams come true in a small town.

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