Windsor takes ‘STEP’ in right direction

Published 9:37 am Thursday, June 17, 2010

WINDSOR – The Town of Windsor has been accepted as part of the N.C. Small Towns Economic Prosperity Program.

The program, known as NC STEP, helps revitalize small towns through a combination of community coaching, economic planning and targeted grants.

Offered through the North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center, the program was originally brought to the town by Windsor Commissioner Collins Cooper.

“I heard about the STEP program while I was attending a meeting at the Rural Center in Raleigh,” Cooper said. “It basically helps small towns. I was excited because I thought it could help Windsor and because they want everyone involved in the planning.”

Cooper, who also serves as Director of the Windsor-Bertie Chamber of Commerce, discussed the idea with Stacie Dunlow, who works on the Chamber staff.

“We decided we ought to try it,” he said.

Cooper then went to the town and received support from Mayor Jimmy Hoggard and his colleagues on the town board. The group appointed Dunlow and Town Administrator Allen Castelloe to write the grant.

“We knew that most towns don’t get accepted on their first attempt,” Dunlow said. “We also knew that we had much of the information they wanted already available because of the town working in the Main Street Program.”

After submitting the grant, town officials went through an interview process with Misty Herget, the Small Towns Coordinator for the Rural Center.

“They told us they were really impressed with the grant and, in fact, said it was the best they had ever received,” Cooper said. “They said it was very thorough and left no questions unanswered.”

The grant application was one of 32 received by the Rural Center and 11 towns were accepted into the program. They included Windsor, Maysville (Jones County), Ramseur (Randolph County), Red Springs (Robeson County), Robbinsville (Graham County), Warsaw (Duplin County), Burnsville (Yancey County), Canton (Haywood County), Hertford (Perquimans County), Siler City (Chatham County) and Star (Montgomery County).

The award brought the total number of STEP communities statewide to 56.

At last week’s Windsor Town Commission meeting, the town’s leaders said they were thrilled to part of the program.

“We’re really excited about what we’ve found out so far,” said Windsor Commissioner Joe Alexander.

Commissioner Bob Brown agreed.

“It’s a good thing we got it,” he said. “It will help us out.”

Mayor Hoggard said he was excited about the possibilities of the grant and the association with the Rural Center.

To participate in the program, towns must commit to build an inclusive, community wide leadership team.

“They want everyone involved,” Cooper said. “All races, creeds, nationalities, age groups, religions, everyone.”

The town will receive a coach from the Rural Center to help identify critical needs and community assets as well as develop potential economic development strategies, prioritize projects and seek out financial resources.

The grant comes with an initial $25,000 for planning that may be used for assessments, feasibility studies, coordination and other activities. Towns are then eligible for up to $100,000 to implement priority projects developed during the process.

Each town can expect the program to last at least two years.

A delegation from Windsor recently participated in a two-day STEP orientation in Raleigh.