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New strategy

AHOSKIE – The town is once again out to aggressively recruit new retail business, but now they want to employ a new, more economical strategy, and a state agency could be just what they need.

At a special call meeting of the Town Council on Monday, Feb. 19, Town Manager Kerry McDuffie informed the group that the Main Street and Rural Planning Center, a division of the North Carolina Department of Commerce with offices statewide, partner with local governments and associated organization to add value to community and regional economic development efforts.

The Ahoskie Economic Development Plan would be the town’s first attempt at attracting business since the Buxton Group was retained several years ago to aid in retail recruitment.

In 2011, Ahoskie first hired Buxton, a Texas-based marketing research group specializing in attracting retail business to small-to-moderate size towns. Their goal was not only to help the town recruit new business, but to assist the existing ones with marketing strategies, and exploit the retail potential of a certain market. In 2013, then-Town Manager Tony Hammond expressed that many new businesses had opened doors and in some cases old, established businesses had expanded or upsized. The town’s last contract with Buxton was approved in the 2016-17 town budget.

McDuffie feels that a partnership with the North Carolina Department of Commerce (DOC) would be more practical, and in the town’s best interest.

“Among the advantages,” he said, “we would have resources and since it’s a state agency, a connection. If they buy into our plan, maybe we can get somewhere.”

McDuffie said the Rural Planning Center suggests that Ahoskie develop an economic development plan that will identify the major issues and develop actionable items to address these issues.

“An economic development plan, with a five (5) year time horizon will provide a framework to meet job creation and economic prosperity opportunities and better position the town for grant opportunities,” he noted.

In a review paper he prepared, McDuffie said a steering committee of 5-to-7 people, representing a cross section of the town, should be appointed consisting of Council members, or other representatives appointed by the Board. Ahoskie Chamber of Commerce Director Amy Braswell was among the possible committee members suggested.

“Identification of and the involvement of key stakeholders for data gathering efforts may be crucial to the success of the economic development plan,” the Town Manager acknowledged.

Councilman Charles Reynolds pointedly asked McDuffie if this new plan would grow the town business-wise.

“It shows us how we can grow the town economically,” he replied.

Previously, Ahoskie has worked with Hertford County, the Mid-East Commission, North Carolina Economic Development Partnership, NC East Alliance, and even other nearby towns and counties; partners that will be crucial in the development of a successful economic development plan.

The Economic Development Planner for the Eastern region of the state in Lee Padrick, whose office is located in Washington, NC. He would meet with the planning group over a 5-year period. When asked about cost, McDuffie said it would require a cost of $150 for mileage re-imbursement, meals and supplies would increase the total, but to less than a sum $700.

Councilman and Mayor Pro Tem the Rev. C. David Stackhouse made a motion for McDuffie to move forward with contracting with the DOC in developing the plan for the town. It passed by a unanimous vote.

Additional discussion followed on a date for the first meeting (March 15), and a time (5 p.m.) that would be most convenient for Council for future meetings. McDuffie said as many as four meetings needed to be held to work on the plan.

Town Attorney Buddy Jones said a Memorandum of Understanding had been drafted (which Council also approved) and a request-for-service (RFP) would be forwarded to the Rural Planning Center.