You recently graduated from the North Carolina Rural Economic Development Institute. Could you explain what it is?
The Institute is offered by The North Carolina Rural Center, whose mission is to develop, promote and implement sound economic strategies to improve the quality of life of rural North Carolinians. It’s our voice in local and state government and pushes forward issues that affect rural counties, which often get forgotten.
What is your role?
My job is to make sure the college is involved and has a voice in what goes on in Stokes County. I work with prospective and established businesses and local government officials to help with training or education needs and provide them with the college’s resources to support economic development.
Can you give an example of how you interact with businesses?
The HR department of a local employer may approach us looking for employees. We work closely with Stokes Economic Development to offer assistance with recruitment and retention of area businesses. We also offer small business counseling (in conjunction with the Small Business Center) through our local workforce development center in Walnut Cove.
What types of businesses are being promoted in the county?
Stokes County has difficulty bringing in large corporations because we don’t have the highways to transport materials and goods easily. So the county has been focusing on travel and tourism in recent years. We had a 4.9 percent increase in travel and tourism last year. Hanging Rock State Park and the Dan River are big attractions that draw thousands of visitors to our county each year.
Do you have a role in planning courses?
I coordinate all our adult basic skills and compensatory classes. I am also helping create a new certification in agricultural and artisan entrepreneurship, to teach local farmers and artisans to be more business-minded and increase their profits.
What did the course consist of?
We went to Raleigh three consecutive days each month for three months. The Institute brought in speakers with specialties, such as infrastructure and workforce development. In between, we were given projects to work on.
You seem so passionate about Stokes County. Do you live there?
Yes! We’ve lived here for 8 years, on 27 acres of land. I love the river system, the natural beauty and the friendly small towns. I want this area to develop in a way that preserves our natural resources and our way of life but also ensures that we thrive economically. That takes vision, planning, and teamwork with local businesses and government agencies. The community college is an integral part of this process, and we’re excited to play a role in the progress that is occurring throughout Stokes County.
Is there anything you’d like readers to take away from this conversation?
I want people to know that rural communities are wonderful places. We want to progress, but in the right way: We’d like to keep what’s charming and wonderful about our rural communities. But we also want to keep our young people here, by giving them a way to make a living, while still enjoying a rural lifestyle.