The Bakersville Improvement Group started as a group of community members who banded together to re-think their town and use their proximity to a heavily traveled tourist route–the Blue Ridge Parkway. Using arts, heritage, and culture, they began to revitalize their downtown and attract tourists from the parkway and artists from around the country, which fueled their economy and created a more resilient community. It surely didn’t happen overnight, but rather the changes occurred in “little bitty bits and pieces” according to Bob Hensley, the secretary of BIG. He also noted that it never would have been possible without their partnership with Handmade in America, an organization now dissolved because of a lack of funding (they were 95% grant funded, and post-recession in 2008 many grants dried up). Handmade in America also started in North Carolina, and assisted small towns with economic development specifically through arts and culture.
Like the Iron Range, Mitchell County lost nearly 3,o00 manufacturing jobs to offshoring in the last decade, and has a silica sand mining industry. Not only is it similar due to a reliance on extractive industry and fluctuating job opportunity, it also has abundant outdoor assets including the Appalachian Trail, trout fishing, and the most concentrated wild pink rhododendron population in the world. Hensley also stated that “the partnership [with Handmade in America] was wonderful, wonderful bonding for small towns”. The IRRRB’s Recharge the Range event held this June showed that connection and coordination between Iron Range towns is something many Rangers hoped to enhance. The Bakersville Improvement Group, in partnership with Handmade in America, revitalized their downtown area bringing economic vitality to the small town of less than 400, making it a destination for people on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
If this organization’s mission and ideas are of interest, look no further for their contact information:
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