Elisabeth Strillacci and Ben Stansell
China Grove and East Spencer have been selected along with 17 other cities by the state Department of Commerce to participate in a capacity building program which, when completed, will help each city qualify for a major grant.
The Department of Commerce partnered with Appalachian State University’s Walker College of Business to create the Rural Communities Capacity Program, also known as RC2. The program includes professional development, including four courses that run through October, technical assistance, and finally implementation grants.
East Spencer Town Administrator Michael Douglas was in Boone last week for two days to attend the program introduction and initial classes.
“The time at Appalachian this week was basically an introduction to the program, what capacity building means, what the goals are and how classes can help,” he said. “And then we had presentations on entrepreneurship, including insights from several communities on how they attracted entrepreneurs and how they determined which businesses can best benefit their communities.”
There are “a lot of pieces to this jigsaw in terms of classes,” Douglas added. “But it’s my understanding that once you complete the course, you’re eligible to apply for grant funds, and it doesn’t seem like there are a lot of hurdles to getting the grant.”
The grant money comes from the Department of Commerce’s Rural Economic Development Division through the new Rural Transformation Grant Fund, which in turn comes from $48 million the state has earmarked to help economically disadvantaged communities.
If East Spencer receives the grant, Douglas said he hopes the city’s Board of Aldermen will agree with his goal of using at least some of the money to create a three-to-five-year strategic plan. focused on the overall growth of the city – industrial, commercial and residential.
“Part of that is also creating a downtown neighborhood, which we don’t have,” he said. There is currently no place in mind, he said, “because we are at the very beginning of this process, but we could have a plan in place in months to develop economic prosperity, for this to what East Spencer can and should look like”.
Douglas has said personally that participating in the program allows him to do what he loves. “For me, it’s about improving the quality of life for residents of East Spencer. If you add to that the $23 million we got for water and sewer upgrades, which will reduce costs for residents, we are doing very well over the next three to five years.
Last week, China Grove Councilwoman Cheryl Sheets and Deputy City Manager Franklin Gover joined Douglas in Boone, the two city representatives on the program.
Sheets said the application for the RC2 program was not on the city’s radar until a few weeks ago, when Assistant Secretary for Rural Development Kenny Flowers visited for the groundbreaking of the new facilities. from Macy. Flowers encouraged the city to apply for the grant, and Gover submitted an application that evening, just hours before the deadline.
Gover said they “kicked off” in the state of Appalachia last week. The first two days of the program focused on familiarizing cohort members with each other and what the program will help municipalities achieve.
Sheets said she expects to learn how China Grove can embrace and harness the growth heading its way.
“Knowing that Macy’s is coming and growth is coming to China Grove, I’m excited about the training program and what they offer,” Sheets said. “This will give us proven economic development strategies to help us prepare and plan our growth so that citizens can derive maximum benefit from it.
China Grove’s participation in the program could be a major benefit for the city’s downtown.
“A big part of this program is understanding how to work with your downtown stakeholders, engaging with them and understanding their needs,” Gover said. “That way you can work well together and help to help them, which ultimately leads to the revitalization of your downtown.”
Once the course is complete, Gover said the city would be in a good position to apply for grants in the fall, including a downtown revitalization grant from the $48 million Rural Transformation Grant Fund from the State. China Grove could receive up to $950,000 from the fund, Gover said. This money would help China Grove make improvements to the downtown area, such as streetscapes, landscaping and infrastructure reinforcement.
Using $55,000 in funding from the Cabarrus-Rowan Metropolitan Planning Organization, China Grove is currently partnering with planning and design firm Kimley-Horn to conduct a study of the Main Street Corridor. The city will kick off the study at its Block Party on June 4 from 4-7 p.m. at Community Park. Representatives from Kimley-Horn will be on hand to gather feedback from citizens to help launch the study.
The block party will also feature entertainment and games, including an on-site magician, family activities, and food and ice cream for sale. A China Grove fire truck will be on hand to keep everyone cool. Event attendees are therefore encouraged to wear swimsuits and bring a towel.
The results of the Main Street Corridor Study, Gover said, will be helpful when the city applies for the downtown revitalization grant.
“There are several grant opportunities coming up in the fall,” he said. “And so participating in this program is basically demonstrating to us that we have the capacity and that we are learning best practices to implement the grants that we need.”