ARC reps take tour of county
A group of representatives from the state and federal levels of the Appalachian Regional Commission was in Mitchell County Tuesday, Oct. 30, to learn about the community, plans and specific projects in the works.
Promotional videos about Mitchell County played silently on a loop as the ARC representatives and local officials ate lunch and discussed small-town infrastructure challenges in the Resource Room at the Spruce Pine TRAC Gallery.
“The county and our municipalities are trying to move forward,” said Keith Holtsclaw, Mitchell County Commissioner and former chair of the Economic Development Commission. “We are at a critical juncture, and I think we are getting our hands around it.”
The tour began around 9:30 a.m. with Mayland Community College President Dr. John Boyd at the Pinebridge Coliseum to learn about that project before being taken inside quartz mines by employees of The Quartz Corp.
Mitchell-Yancey Substance Abuse Task Force member and Mountain Community Health Partnership Chair Dr. Dan Barron told the group about the ongoing efforts to combat opioid abuse and Mitchell County Board of Commissioners Chair Matthew “Vern” Grindstaff talked about the county government’s initiatives.
“We have partnered with surrounding counties to start a drug court,” Grindstaff said. “We are also expanding the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program to include kindergarten through 12th grade; not just middle school.”
ARC Federal co-chair Tim Thomas said he is impressed with Mitchell County’s anti-drug programs and said an opioid crisis not only adversely affects a small, rural community’s available workforce but also carries the burden of being very expensive.
Mitchell County Commissioner Jacob Willis mentioned the day treatment program through a partnership with Vaya Health.
Mitchell County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Patti Jensen switched topics of discussion when she spoke about the Mitchell Works project and the “Seek + Find” strategic marketing plan.
“The plan gives us direction,” Jensen said. “It began being implemented this year and what makes it so valuable is it included input from everyone; from people from all walks of life in Mitchell County. We are all in this together. We are too small of a community to all try and do our own thing.”
Bakersville Mayor Charles “Chuck” Vines touted Bakersville to the group by detailing the town’s ongoing water upgrades and current business climate.
“Bakersville has only one vacant building,” Vines said. “We have four places to eat, and it is a nice, quaint town that does a lot with volunteers.”
Thomas said the tour provided a “good overview” of the community, its challenges and how those challenges are being handled.
“I see this community starting to make progress,” Thomas said. “Basic infrastructure is the bread and butter of what the ARC is all about; that and broadband are essential to rural communities.”
Mitchell County Economic Development Commission Executive Director Mickey Duvall said Thomas was “very impressed” with the working relationship among the county commissioners, EDC board and the community-at-large.
“The important takeaway from all this is key decision-makers from Raleigh to Washington, D.C., now better understand the needs of Mitchell County and are willing to step up to the plate and help us move forward together for the betterment of our towns and county,” Duvall said.
Spruce Pine Town Manager Richard Canipe and Spruce Pine Main Street Executive Director Libby Phillips took the group on a walking tour of downtown Spruce Pine before the group departed for Asheville.