Cost of Growth: Some WNC towns shrinking

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While most communities in Western North Carolina are booming with growth, some are losing population.

News 13 is researching the trends and looking at why some towns are experiencing success while others are struggling.

U.S. Census Bureau data shows the Graham, Mitchell, and Rutherford counties have all seen a drop in residents.

Cities like Spruce Pine, Forest City, Robbinsville, and Rutherfordton have all lost population since 2010.


The sidewalk is mostly empty, there isn't much traffic, and the stores aren't too busy in Rutherfordton.

"I noticed that the town needs more wonderful things for people to do besides Tuesday through Saturday until 6 p.m.," said Joellyn Evans, a local business owner.

Some say it's clear that the town is struggling. It's a place that hasn't seen the same huge crowds as Asheville, which is just an hour away.

But if you stop on Main Street to chat with local leaders, you'll get a much different take. They paint the picture of a bustling, growing community on the brink of something big.

"Hugely optimistic," Rutherfordton town manager Doug Barrick said. "Our town is the best town around and what we're trying to do is create a great place for people to live work and play."

Clark Poole with the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce is just as positive about the future of the small town.

"On the surface, it looks like, well, not much is going on but a lot more is going on than meets the eye," Poole said.

Poole is well aware of what the data shows but isn't the least bit worried.

"Because of the demise of textiles, there was still that remnant of we can't do it anymore, so there was community lack of self-esteem. I see that trend changing," Poole said.

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that Rutherfordton has seen a 4 percent drop in population.

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In 2010, there were 4,213 residents and in 2017 there were 4,031.

"I think with our place it was just timing, with our place in WNC, I feel like other towns are at a better timeline than we are, and we're trying to create our own timeline here," Poole said.

Town manager Doug Barrick says a lack of major manufacturers is the main reason behind the decline. But he says they're working hard to bring small shops to downtown and re-invest in housing.

Poole adds that with several new highway projects in the works, a boom is right around the corner.

"So, we're going to have connectivity in Rutherford County to Interstate 85, 26, 40, which is going to be a marvelous, marvelous opportunity for us to be very quickly connected to Atlanta, Asheville, Charlotte. It's amazing," he said.


As for those who rely on customers coming through their doors, they say business is still good.

"I haven't, I've been really pleased with my business and feel like it's been growing," local business owner Jane Bell said.

In fact, the owner of My Green Room, which just opened this summer, Joellyn Evans, says she's been shocked by her success.

"We're kind of growing bigger than we thought. Where I am now I thought I'd be in two years, not two months," Evans explained. "It's crazy I don't even know."

Maybe it's a sign that Rutherfordton is rebounding.

"I think it's coming. I think Rutherford is really going to start exploding," Bell said.

Many in Rutherford County believe they'll benefit from the nearby World Equestrian Games.

Next week, hear from two local towns experiencing a population surge as our cost of growth series continues.

If you have a Cost of Growth topic you'd like us to investigate, email us at

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