PEMBROKE — The town of Pembroke was recently named the 2017 Small Town of the Year at the annual Rural Assembly hosted by the NC Rural Center, a 30-year-old organization that seeks to improve the quality of life in rural North Carolina.
The Rural Assembly is the state’s premier event focused on the big issues facing North Carolina’s rural communities. The Small Town of the Year award recognizes communities that embrace citizen engagement, value diversity and foster strong partnerships.
The town must show progress through innovative economic development projects and programs, and foster an entrepreneur-friendly environment in order to receive the award. The nominees should have overcome economic barriers and challenges that have affected rural North Carolina and have been creative, diligent, and resourceful in building a new economy.
“This award is a testament to the partnerships the town has formed with key community stakeholders, such as UNC Pembroke and the Lumbee Tribe of NC, and reflects our Town Council’s desire to do more for our community through partnerships,” said Tyler W. Thomas, Pembroke town manager. “We are grateful to the Rural Center for this award and believe we are laying a foundation for a successful future.”
A group of town representatives accepted the award in front of a crowd of more than 400 assembly attendees. As in previous years, the Rural Center received competitive nominations for the award, all of which highlighted successful community economic development efforts throughout the state.
Thomas said the town has worked hard on its downtown revitalization program. He also noted that the town just finished a two-year partnership with the North Carolina Institute for Emerging Issues, sponsored by N.C. State University.
The town has a strong working relationship with UNCP and its Entrepreneurship Incubator, which is located on Main Street in downtown Pembroke, Thomas said. As the home of the Lumbee Tribe, the town maintains a strong working relationship with the tribe.
“We’re hoping to get a lot of exposure about this award,” Thomas said. “It’s already up on our website.”
Selecting the small town of the year is a difficult task, said Patrick Woodie, Rural Center president.
“The Rural Center honored Pembroke as the 2017 Small Town of the Year to recognize their collective efforts to promote inclusive community dialogue, nurture entrepreneurship, and grow their economy,” Woodie said.
Pembroke, which has a population just under 3,000, is home to the Lumbee Indian Tribe and UNCP. The town and its leadership are seeding a new culture of entrepreneurship focused on growing their economy in three core sectors: health care, construction and agribusiness.
As a participant in Innovate NC, a first-in-the nation effort to spark inclusive innovation statewide, a committee of public and private partners has developed a strategic plan to leverage community assets and weave a spirit of entrepreneurship into the fabric of Pembroke.
The town recently approved a master revitalization plan that will unite the commercial district and UNCP by adding sidewalks, lighting, bicycle lanes, and streetscaping to improve pedestrian access to the heart of downtown Pembroke.
Pembroke may be on the starting gate of another growth spurt fueled by UNCP as the university begins the NC Promise program in 2018 to lower tuition to $500 per semester. The town recently rezoned land for a new student apartment complex.
The Small Town of the Year appears to be “keeping the train moving forward” into the 21st century, Thomas said.
Scott Bigelow may be contacted at [email protected] or by calling 910-644-4497.