With a paper mill that constantly bellows smoke, Canton will not likely be the next Western North Carolina tourism destination.
But, a local development group StepUp Canton does think the old mill town could become a quaint hometown for young families and others who want stay within an easy distance of Ashville without paying big city prices.
StepUp Canton, an eight-member committee, began meeting in June 2010 to about how to create jobs and grow the economy.
“The goal is to create jobs whether directly or indirectly,” said Patrick Willis, who is spearheading the movement. Willis is also running for a seat on the Canton town board this fall.
The committee received a $25,000 planning grant from the North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center to develop concrete goals and will receive another $100,000 to implement the projects.
Thus far, the group has outlined 12 projects such as establishing a business association, upgrading the town’s website and offering façade makeover grants to help clean up the downtown area. The next step is to divvy up the money based on their priorities.
“If we get started on some of those projects, hopefully, that might get the ball rolling,” Willis said. One of the main hurdles will be keeping people motivated and participating in StepUp Canton, he said.
In the past, grassroots efforts have emerged to promote growth in Canton, but staying power dwindled and the attempts fell short.
Several long-term goals set by the committee include transforming vacant property downtown into multi-use buildings and construct a multi-million dollar exposition center to draw passersby off of Interstate 40.
“(The expo center) is over our heads here, but it’s something we’re thinking about,” Willis said, adding that the town would consider public-private partnerships to pay for some of the larger redevelopment projects.
StepUp Canton is accepting new members and feedback from area residents and business owners. The committee will hold its next meeting Oct. 17 at 6 p.m. at the Colonial Theatre.