Committees are in 'STEP' with projects
This is part one of a two-part story on Rutherfordton's STEP projects implementation phase.
After a hiatus that lasted several months, the Town of Rutherfordton has begun to implement projects that were proposed by the town's STEP (Small Towns Economic Prosperity) committees last December.
The NC STEP contract was received from the NC Department of Commerce, approved by the Rutherfordton Town Council on June 4 and signed on June 13, allowing the committees to begin using funds from the $100,000 grant as part of the STEP program's implementation phase.
"Now the excitement really begins — when we get to start the projects and see things done," said Rutherfordton Mayor Jimmy Dancy. "These committees have been dedicated in their commitment to these town projects."
Under current parameters, the town has a maximum of 18 months from a May 1, 2014 contract date to complete its projects, despite the signing of the contract on June 13. This means that the committees must complete their expenditures related to the implementation of the town's STEP projects by October 31, 2015.
More than two years ago the Town of Rutherfordton entered the NC STEP program as one of 10 sites in the fourth cohort of NC STEP towns. The STEP program brings a comprehensive revitalization effort to communities, especially those challenged by economic hardships due to changes in the economy and/or natural disasters.
"It is rewarding for me to see citizens enthusiastic about our town," said Dancy. "We hope the STEP program will be a continuation into other areas as well for our town."
The program has three primary goals of supporting economic recovery and revitalization through job creation, business activity and leveraged private and public investments; implementing a comprehensive model of local leadership capacity building, technical assistance and grant making; and providing vital information to develop public policies that support long-term investment in the economic vitality of North Carolina's small towns.
"The community here is beautiful and you have a lot to work with," said Marquis Crews with the NC Department of Commerce. "I've been to several other rural towns in North Carolina and haven't seen any of them embrace their history as much as you all have here."
By participating in the STEP program, Rutherfordton has received assistance from a STEP coach to create a long-term economic development strategic plan and implementation strategy for the town.
The plan's goals are to create conditions and activities that will ultimately result in job and wealth creation, improved standard of living and quality of life for the community's residents and additional public and private investments into the town and vicinity. The planning process spanned approximately 15 months and emphasized the development of citizen leaders with the skills necessary to improve the community's economic health and vibrancy.
After drafting a mission statement, the STEP Leadership Team, consisting of a cross section of Rutherfordton's citizens, developed its plan focusing on three broad strategies with several projects under each strategy. The strategies include marketing and promotion, destination/tourism and business development.
As a participant in the STEP program, the town receives up to $25,000 in planning funds and up to $100,000 to implement its initial projects.
"The STEP process is moving forward and STEP money is being released, and we want to re-energize you after your hiatus," said Chilton Rogers with the NC Rural Center. "It's time to go out and really make these things happen and there should be no impediments in your progress."
Marketing and promotion
The marketing and promotion strategy utilizes around $39,000 in implementation funds and includes the development of an integrated marketing process that will enable the economic, cultural and social development of Rutherfordton and the surrounding area.
STEP projects addressing this strategy are development of a community branding, marketing and economic development plan with assistance from Arnett Muldrow & Associates of Greenville, S.C. as well as a public relations campaign marketing local personalities, events and history. Two specific items included are the implementation of a visitor feedback postcard and creation of printed marketing materials.
Three additional marketing and promotion projects include renovating and repurposing the Woodrow Jones Building, creating murals for empty storefronts downtown and constructing an electronic kiosk near the courthouse. These are future projects with funding needs to be determined as they move forward, as well as backup projects that do not immediately require funding.
"The most exciting thing we've accomplished so far is the mural project that we rolled out for the public on the Fourth of July," said Kitty McCammon, chairperson of the marketing committee. "We have something to show and I'm so proud of our committee."