Gov. Cooper visits Madison County, touts Hometown Strong initiative
Gov. Roy Cooper took his tour of Western North Carolina to Madison County on Tuesday to unveil an initiative designed to help rural communities across the state. Cooper, who grew up in rural Nash County, met with about 50 Madison County officials involved in the pilot program Hometown Strong.
Hometown Strong will be a partnership between state and local government, businesses and nonprofits, working together on issues like infrastructure, workforce training and internet access. The goal is to identify specific needs of people in each community.
"What is the niche, what is Madison County's niche?" Cooper asked. "We want the people of rural North Carolina to benefit and to understand that they are being heard."
Some of the issues already being discussed are concerns common to any community -- jobs, improved infrastructure, the big stuff.
Also being discussed are things many of us take for granted, like getting online and staying connected.
"I've previously had a company that provided it, now I'm having to use a hot spot, which doesn't last very long, doesn't do updates for your computer. So, I need to come to the library to use the internet," Madison County resident Linda Freeman said with a laugh.
Then there's Main Street Marshall, a place where downtown redevelopment could fall under the banner of Hometown Strong. Many business owners would like to see an economic shot in the arm.
"The town is growing, things are changing, but we really need to fill up some of these empty storefronts and get more rentals, I think would be a good thing," Debra Marshall, of Marshall's Main Street Cafe, said.
The welcome mat was out for Cooper, perhaps a reason for hope way up here in the mountains.
"With us over here in Western North Carolina, we feel like Raleigh has forgotten about us. But just him coming, it means a lot to us. And knowing that he himself is from a rural area, it's a beginning. It's a start," Madison County resident Stephanie McCullogh said.