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Small towns declining, but Elizabethtown has a plan for progress

By Charlotte Smith

Recently Town of Elizabethtown Manager, Eddie Madden spoke with Elizabethtown-White Lake Area Chamber of Commerce members about the decline in the sustainability of small towns in the nation. However, the message Madden brought was one of optimism. 

The damages from Hurricane Florence and the publicity brought by the elections’ investigation hit the mother county hard, but the decline in sales tax has also caused concerns for officials, according to Madden’s report. 

The plan is simple. “We need to control our message,” Madden said. The list of positive things Elizabethtown and Bladen County has to offer is long.

The airport, the lake, the bike park and other parks were on the manager’s list of assets Elizabethtown has to offer. “We have done a good job marketing within the county and now we need to market to outside the county and bring people in,” Madden said. 

Madden referenced a recent article by Roger Zalneraitis, Economic Development Manager for the Southern Ute Indian Tribe. In the article Zalneraitis referenced a sign at an international airport stating, “60-70 million people per year are moving to cities in the next three decades,” he added, the advertisement goes on to call this global-wide migration “the greatest population shift in history.”

In the article, 3 Keys to the Economic Viability of Small Towns, Zalneraitis said, “While not every town has the luck to have a tourist magnet like Mount Rushmore nearby, almost every community has something that makes it unique — a quirky museum, perhaps, or distinctive downtown architecture, or an important but nearly forgotten historical event in its past.”

Madden echoed the same sentiments in his presentation to local business owners. He presented the idea of a new full-time Marketing Director. The new Town of Elizabethtown position will lead the promotions of local businesses, events and attractions with strategic branding and messaging strategies. That person also will provide technical assistance to the Elizabethtown-White Lake Chamber of Commerce.

The Brown’s Creek Bike Trail recently hosted two large bike competitions according to Madden. He commented on the growth of the park and tourism in the town since Southern Off Road Bike Association (SORBA) assisted the town in making the bike park. 

He referenced another article he found during his research titled, How Mountain Biking Is Saving Small Town, USA written by Nicholas Hunt. In the article Hunt references data showing the economic impact of over $2 million dollars due to the tourism bike trails brought to the small town of Crosby. 

Hunt stated, “Crosby is not alone. All across the county, single-resource towns are building trails where they once harvested timber or mined ore to attract a new source of revenue—mountain bikers.”    

The Brown’s Creek Bike Trail is only one attribute Elizabethtown wants to market to the region. Madden also showcased construction plans for the new fire and emergency management building, the Elizabethtown Airport future taxi-lane, and additions for recreation at the Lock & Dam #2. 

Applications for the full time Marketing Director with the chamber are now being accepted according to Dawn Maynard, Executive Director of the Elizabethtown-White Lake Area Chamber of Commerce. 

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