Caitlin Bowling

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A town doesn’t have to be big to have big ideas, according to North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue.

“What is it you have that you can capitalize on? That you can put together and sell,” Perdue said.

Last Thursday’s small town competitiveness forum at Haywood Community College brought together regional, state and federal leaders to discuss rural economic growth and projects in need of funding.

Appalachian Regional Commission Federal Co-Chair Earl Goal spoke at the forum. He emphasized the positive outlook of the small business owners he has spoken to — more than half of who said they plan to hire new employees.

“Yeah, they do plan to hire people; yeah, they are interested in investing in the community; and yeah, they do see a bright future,” Goal said.

During the forum, several local leaders expressed a need to expand broadband services in rural North Carolina so that students can access the Internet at home as well as at school. Most took the time to thank Perdue for previous funding and programs that have helped their towns and businesses.

Before taking comments and questions, Perdue asked attendees what their “big ideas” were.

“I have been told by people from around the world that the best ideas are in dorms in Western or UNC-A; they are in a garage in somebody’s neighborhood, or they are actually in the mind of a 15-year-old sitting in a public high school in Western North Carolina today,” Perdue said.

Perdue told people to look for creative ways to find funding for local projects and big ideas. In the 1980s, after years of being turned down for state funding, she and other residents of New Bern received a grant from Pepsi, which was invented there, to help rejuvenate area businesses.

“We need to decide that we as a country are going to build things again,” she said, later adding that she wants to visit China one day and see products made in North Carolina.

Perdue encouraged attendees to follow the lead of Appalachian State University in Boone.

The rural university entered the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon this year, building a self-sufficient, affordable, solar-powered home. With nearly 93,000 votes, the university beat out 18 other teams including entries from Purdue University and the University of Maryland for the People’s Choice Award.

The team from Appalachian State University created the concept themselves and sought out funding. Now, national companies such as Target and Lowe’s want to display the team’s house, Perdue said.


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