Construction Professionals Network Institute, Inc. is a non-profit initiative focusing on construction industry related projects and community service throughout the State of North Carolina. CPN of North Carolina, Inc., a non-profit construction industry membership organization, founded CPN Institute in 2006 to expand its mission of service to the construction industry and provide assistance to communities throughout North Carolina. The CPN Institute was incorporated as a non-profit 501 (c) (3) corporation in 2011 to focus on education and community services.
As part of CPN’s Institute, I had the opportunity to volunteer for one of the two-day planning workshops CPN conducts as part of our non-profit arm. The town we were visiting this time was Scotland Neck, NC.
Scotland Neck is situated northeast of Rocky Mount, east of I-95, and has a population of about 2,000. Like many rural towns, Scotland Neck has been struggling as manufacturing, the lifeblood of many small towns, has steadily moved overseas. Younger generations have subsequently moved to denser urban areas in search of opportunities, and the older generations are retiring and closing their local businesses with no one left to fill them. Likewise, the shifting political landscape has led to many of the rural areas in our state to become an afterthought, as the tax base slowly dwindles. This is where we come in.
Make no mistake, we are not there to tell them what to do. They know far more about their home than we ever will. We are there to listen. We offer our services and professional input, free of charge, to small towns all over North Carolina, and most are happy to accept. We have no agenda other than to help our fellow neighbors and make North Carolina the best place it can be.
As an Architect, I had no choice but to fall in love with the town. The iconic post-WWII “main street” was, as it is in towns all over the United States, made of compact brick buildings that line a main street. Usually a highway, the main street is simply where the speed limit drops from 55 to 20, and then goes back up again at the end of the town’s limits. Blink and you might miss it.
Scotland Neck had some spectacular buildings. The old bank building, now crumbling from neglect after BB&T moved into town, was a particular favorite, but will almost certainly collapse if not attended to. McDowell’s pharmacy, a 3rd generation business, stands in another two-story brick building. It is one of the only businesses in town keeping Scotland Neck alive – until a CVS or Walgreen’s moves in. The other buildings in town, though interesting architecturally, are vacant and crumbling. The thrift store, car dealership, appliance store – all long gone. The grocer replaced by Food Lion. The restaurants replaced by Hardees. The general store replaced by Dollar Tree. The storefronts have become vacant or lotto arcades - symptoms of a town in need. The town, though, does have something no other place on earth can offer.
Two miles north is a place called Sylvan Heights Bird Park. Moved to Scotland Neck in 1989, the bird park has the largest collection of exotic and rare waterfowl in the world. They have over 3,000 birds comprising 140 species of bird, may of them endangered. It brings 55,000 visitors to Scotland Neck each year.
This is where we came in. How can a place that gets 55,000 visitors a year not sustain but a few small businesses? We had to find out. So, we held a town workshop where we invited anyone who wanted to come. The mayor, business leaders, concerned citizens, anyone. We had a good turnout, probably twenty citizens came out. And so, we listened. Listened intently, and kept our mouths shut. We needed to digest everything they had to say. We then surveyed the town, using our team’s planning and design expertise to identify potential areas of improvement. And we found our answer to why people don’t stick around after visiting the park. The answer is, people come see the park and then leave. Over time businesses have had to board up their windows making the town even less appealing, so even less people stop at the thrift shop or the retail store. The cycle continues.
After two days of meeting the people, exploring the buildings, and digesting the information, the team went back to our hotel and digested the information. The next day we met again, this time with some preliminary recommendations. A few weeks later, we issued a full report with our observations and recommendations. You can read the full report here.
These are opinions of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of CPN, CPNI, or any other groups referenced herein.