08/29/12 — Group eyes plans, hopes for Fremont

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Group eyes plans, hopes for Fremont

By Ty Johnson
Published in News on August 29, 2012 1:46 PM

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Oliver Bass, chief planner at the N.C. Department of Commerce and Fremont's community coach, records grades offered up by residents during Tuesday's meeting of the Small Towns Economic Prosperity Leadership Team.

FREMONT -- Some attendees had lived there for more than 50 years. Others had lived in the Daffodil Town for as little as 10 months.

But all those gathered for the second meeting of Fremont's Small Towns Economic Prosperity Leadership Team Tuesday night at Town Hall -- more than 30 in all -- shared a conviction to help improve the town, helping the state-contracted consultant team to select the town's mission statement as it moves forward with its economic revitalization initiative, which could take as long as 15 months to complete.

The STEP program is designed to help small towns spur economic development through community coaching, leadership training, planning assistance and grants.

Oliver Bass, the town's community coach and planner with the N.C. Department of Commerce, led the meeting, presenting the team members with two mission statements crafted at the group's July meeting.

The team altered one mission statement just a bit, borrowing a word from the second choice, and selected a mission that charged the leadership team with working together to "support and promote future growth and economic development, increase pride in our assets and town beauty and to promote a small town quality of life."

The second choice had included the concept of using a "trust in God approach," but while those gathered said they fully supported such an approach, they maintained that such language didn't necessarily need to be included in the mission.

The conversation then turned toward surveys conducted during the first meeting -- one Mayor Darron Flowers said might have been impacted by rain, although he said it was well-attended considering the circumstances.

The initial results from the surveys showed that those asked felt Fremont's greatest asset was its people, with the Daffodil Festival ranked as a distant second. The results also revealed that survey-takers wanted the town to attract larger businesses while still maintaining its small-town feel.

Photos from around town were then shared as a means for team members to embrace Fremont's assets along with its shortcomings in an effort to find ways to improve the town as a whole.

This led to discussion of Interstate 795, which was described as offering the town "great survival potential."

As the conversation began to center on the interstate less than a mile west of town -- one resident asked the likelihood of having N.C. Department of Transportation signs ahead of the Fremont exit advertising businesses in town -- Bass said the group was getting ahead of itself.

Town Administrator Kerry McDuffie offered to explain the DOT process for installing signs, but Bass said that topic would best be saved for later.

Yolanda Burwell with the state's Rural Center spoke next, vowing that the revitalization efforts that came from the leadership team would not simply end after three years, but have the potential to define the town's future for years to come, especially as it engages residents in the town's planning.

She also said the solutions to most of the town's problems would need to come from within Fremont's town limits.

"The cavalry isn't coming," she told the group. "Guess who the cavalry is. It's you."

She said the state and Rural Center would work to return control over the town's economic future to its residents, noting that while some things -- like the interstate -- were out of the town's control, there is much that the town can control.

She also noted that the project wasn't put into place to simply fix problems, but was aimed at bringing about substantial positive change within the town.

"You're engaging in an investment process, not a fixing process," she said.

She then turned to the group itself, asking what sects of the community were missing, with team members quickly noting that there were no Hispanics within the group's ranks.

"They're a part of our state whether we like it or not," Ms. Burwell said, asking that members engage members of the Hispanic community to try to bring them into the folds of the group.

Flowers also added that there was a lack of young adults between the ages of 25 and 40 in the group.

The meeting concluded with an activity whereby small groups ranked the town on its proficiency in 20 qualities, among them community pride, willingness to invest, infrastructure and fiscal responsibility.

Bass compiled the grades, from A to D, up front, but members of the team wanted to see averages and discuss discrepancies, especially since some groups differed greatly in their opinions on the same issues.

A bulk of grades were C's and D's, and Flowers asked Bass how the team would be able to build a consensus when there was already so much disagreement about the town's strengths and weaknesses.

Following the meeting, Bass said the entire STEP process is concerned with building a consensus and that it's something the team would reach eventually. It's still early in the process, he noted, with only two meetings done.

The next meeting will be held Sept. 25 at 5:30 p.m. at a location to be determined later. For more information about the meeting or the STEP program, contact Town Hall at 242-5151.