LAURINBURG — About 30 business owners, elected officials, and city employees gathered on Wednesday morning to learn what part they may play in the future of Laurinburg’s downtown area.
The group heard from N.C. Main Street Center Director Liz Parham, as well as the center’s downtown coordinator Sherry Adams, during the city’s first session as a member of the center’s Downtown Associate Community Program.
Earlier this month, the Main Street Center notified Laurinburg of its acceptance into the program, which is now the only gateway to recognition as a fully-fledged Main Street community. The program offers consulting services and other resources to communities working to improve the quality of their downtown areas.
“What we know from being involved in this program over the last 35 years is, if you want to recruit industry — and most communities do — you’ve got to have a strong, healthy downtown,” Parham said. “When those industry leaders come in and look at your community as a place to relocate, they often want to go downtown and look at your downtown district and see if you’re caring for it.”
Parham also pointed out that the employment base of the entire downtown area is similar to that of a single industry.
More than 1,100 communities in 46 states, including 98 in North Carolina, are members of the National Main Street Center. In North Carolina, Main Street communities have seen more than $2.3 billion in public and private investment since 1981.
Teddy Warner, the city’s community development director, will be at the head of the city’s effort to proceed with the downtown associate program, which is designed to prepare cities for Main Street community status within three years by assisting with organization, promotion, design, and economic restructuring.
“These four points work together for economic development: you can’t do one point without the other, but the foundation is the organizational piece,” said Adams, adding that Warner’s role is similar to that of a county economic developer, with a smaller focus area.
“Everybody in this room hopefully will find something where you can go, I’m really passionate about this and I want to be involved with it.”
Program staff will visit the city quarterly to monitor progress and offer ongoing advice in areas like image campaigns, retail promotion, special events, and even smaller details like individual retailers’ window displays and sales promotions.
“How many of you in here are retailers in the downtown district?” Adams asked. “We want to make your cash registers ring, help you with creating those special retail events, joint advertising, even sidewalk sales.”
The program will also assist in identifying new uses for old buildings. But both Adams and Parham cautioned that downtown will not be transformed within a week.
One of the city’s first steps will be to gather information about the city’s existing businesses.
“We’re going to look at every business, the hours that they operate,” said Parham. “We’re going to look for consistent hours, we’re going to look at the products that are offered, we’re going to look at name-brand products that are offered. We’re going to look at types of businesses and collaboration that’s going on … everything you can imagine.”
Among the attendees were Scotland County Board of Commissioners Chairman Guy McCook, Laurinburg City Council members Dee Hammond and Mary Jo Adams, Laurinburg-Scotland County Area Chamber of Commerce Director Janet Smith and Chairman Lee Howell, and Laurinburg Downtown Revitalization Corporation Chairman Jim Willis.
That demonstration of support at an 8 a.m. meeting, Parham said, bodes well for the city’s success, and is one reason that it was one of four communities in the state selected for the first cohort of the associate program.
“I think that’s different than what you had in the past: there was not cohesiveness in the past, and today I think there is,” she said. “This turnout this morning is evidence that you all are ready for this. We’re really excited to see the numbers of people both on the private and the public side.”
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.