Marion’s growth and vitality has earned it the Small Town of the Year Award for 2018 from the N.C. Rural Center.
The award was presented Friday morning during the organization’s 2018 Rural Assembly, which was held in Raleigh.
The Small Town of the Year Award recognizes a town or small city “that embraces citizen engagement, values diversity, and fosters strong partnerships.”
“The town must promote innovative economic development initiatives and programs as well as an entrepreneur-friendly environment,” reads the criteria for the award. “The nominee must demonstrate how they have overcome economic barriers and challenges as well as being creative, diligent, and resourceful in building an economic future for all of its residents.”
City Manager Bob Boyette, Marion Business Association Director Freddie Killough, Planning Director Heather Cotton, McDowell Chamber of Commerce Director Steve Bush and downtown business owner Rachel Withrow were there in Raleigh to accept the award.
“It’s certainly a great honor for Marion to be recognized by the Rural Center, which is the primary organization in North Carolina promoting rural interests,” said City Manager Bob Boyette to The McDowell News.
When the award was announced, Rural Center officials cited the great collaboration between the city of Marion, McDowell County, the McDowell Chamber, the MBA and the McDowell Economic Development Association, according to Boyette.
The city’s Growing Entreprenuers Marion (GEM) program was also cited by the Rural Center as a reason for this award. The GEM program is an eight-class training session teaching the basics of owning and operating a small business. The class goes over such topics as whether the idea is feasible and how it will be financed. All aspects of starting a new business are included in the class.
Marion’s revolving loan program which helps small businesses get off to a good financial start was another factor in the award, according to Boyette.
“Marion Business Association is delighted about Marion being awarded N.C. Rural Center Small Town of the Year,” said Killough. “There are many exciting things happening in Marion and MBA is proud to be part of the partnerships that make Marion special.”
“I am very proud to be a part of such a unique and amazing community that is Marion,” said Withrow, who is the owner of the Crooked Door Coffee House. “We all, businesses, the city, the chamber, the MBA, non-profits, and the community have worked so hard over the past years to bring life back to our town and now we are being recognized for it. Marion has become a wonderful example of how having a vision and strong collaboration within your community, you can make anything happen. Way to go Marion!”
Cotton said to The McDowell News she was honored to be there for this recognition.
“It was heartwarming listening to Heather Kilbourne, a Marion native and project manager of Faith in Rural Communities at the N.C. Rural Center, speak about her love of Marion and highlighting some of the programs and projects that influenced the organization’s decision to make this award,” said Cotton in a prepared statement. “(Kilbourne) spoke about the community’s transformation and some of the influencing factors such as the downtown streetscape, Growing Entrepreneurs Marion (GEM) initiative, Catawba River greenway, the City Stage, and new Marion Event Center as just some of the reasons Marion has been named Small Town of the Year. It was a wonderful reflection of what good partnerships can accomplish, and I can’t wait to see what we come up with next to make Marion an even better small town to live, work, and play!”
Bush said he too was honored to be a part of the local delegation and help accept the award.
“I am proud of our community and the collaborative work that is ongoing,” said the chamber director. “It is a privilege to be recognized for all the hard work that has been done and continues to happen. When we put our differences aside and work for a common goal, then anything is possible. We are proud the Chamber is allowed to play a part in the common efforts for the betterment of our town.”
Mayor Steve Little was not able to attend the Rural Assembly in Raleigh but he stated to The McDowell News his pride in Marion receiving this recognition.
“I’m very excited that Marion has received the honor and distinction of being named the Small Town of the Year this week by the NC Rural Economic Development Center (usually referred to as the NC Rural Center),” said the mayor. “Thanks to the efforts of a great many new and existing business owners, downtown Marion and many other areas of Marion have become energized. Marion now draws people from other areas to come here to shop, relax, meet friends and have a good time. I’m very proud of all the business people who made this recognition possible. Marion is definitely ‘open for business.’”
Each year, the Rural Center recognizes individuals, organizations, and towns that have demonstrated visionary leadership, impacted the economy, and built strong community partnerships. At this year’s 2018 Rural Assembly, we will award nominees from within five categories: leadership, advocacy, entrepreneurship, small town growth and vitality, and small business lending. Boyette said he believes the Rural Center’s criteria for a small town is less than 10,000.
A formal presentation of this award will be made at Tuesday’s Marion City Council meeting.
Since 1987, the Rural Center has worked to improve the quality of life for the state’s rural people and places.
“We operate with the core belief that our rural communities have inherent cultural value and are vital to the overall economic health of our state,” states its Web site. “We recognize that the changing landscape of rural North Carolina brings with it significant challenges, but we also believe in the resiliency of our state’s rural people and their dedicated stewardship of the communities they call home. The NC Rural Center’s mission is to develop, promote, and implement sound economic strategies to improve the quality of life of rural North Carolinians. We serve the state’s 80 rural counties, with a special focus on individuals with low to moderate incomes and communities with limited resources.”