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Program aims to help expand economic development planning


The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

North Carolina communities hoping to bolster their downtown districts have a “strong” new resource.

The North Carolina Department of Commerce is investing $260,000 in Downtown Strong, a program to build local government capacity by providing economic development planning, revitalization resources and guidance.

The program is a result of feedback gleaned from Gov. Roy Cooper’s Hometown Strong initiative. Hometown Strong convenes leaders from every cabinet agency to meet with regional leaders to forge new relationships, increase communication and help state government better serve rural North Carolinians.

“As we work with small communities throughout our state, local governments need more capacity and resources to tackle the unique challenges they face,” Cooper said during a visit to New Bern on Tuesday afternoon. “Downtown Strong will provide planning and revitalization expertise to communities across North Carolina that otherwise might not have access to these resources.”

Downtown Strong is based on comments gathered from rural leaders during Hometown Strong community meetings. The program will operate out of the Department of Commerce’s Main Street and Rural Planning Center.

The planning center provides technical assistance services to communities that are revitalizing and preserving their traditional downtown commercial districts as mixed-use centers of activity. Downtown Strong will assist communities that are not yet part of the formal Main Street program or that have needs outside the traditional program.

“The NC Main Street and Rural Planning Center has deep economic and community development expertise, especially for downtowns in rural and smaller communities,” Secretary of Commerce Anthony M. Copeland said. “Through Downtown Strong, we can provide more communities with these elite resources.”

Downtown Strong will provide a downtown assessment of each participating community, as well as staff training, technical assistance and other resources.

Services and resources will use the Main Street America approach, which establishes economic development strategies and implementation plans through economic vitality, design, promotion and organization actions.

The traditional Main Street program includes a Downtown Associate Community program for smaller communities or those just starting revitalization efforts. Downtown Strong will help interested communities prepare to become Downtown Associate Communities or will help them prosper on their own.

The program is available to all eligible communities in North Carolina. Interested local government officials should contact Liz Parham, Director of the NC Main Street and Rural Planning Center, for more information at lparham@nccommerce.com.