Surry County News

Read about new business, events and news that effects life and commerce in the western Piedmont Triad.

Elkin City Schools ranked 5th in state

Elkin City Schools students delivered one of the top performances in the state on North Carolina’s end-of-grade and end-of-course exams, according to the 2018-2019 accountability results presented to the State Board of Education on Sept. 4.

Elkin City Schools ranked fifth among the state’s 115 school districts for student performance on the annual exams in the 2018-2019 school year. Across the district, 71.8 percent of all students met grade level proficiency. Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools, at 75.5 percent, had the best performance among all public school districts in North Carolina, followed by Polk County Schools (73.8%), Union County Public Schools (73.6%), and Carteret County Public Schools (72.7%).

“Quality leadership, high expectations and ongoing evaluation of student performance drive our daily work,” states Dr. Myra Cox, Superintendent of Elkin City Schools. “We focus on our strategic goals and operate on our beliefs. We envision a school system that ignites the desire to learn in every student by providing them with unique, varied and authentic learning experiences. Undeniably, our highly trained and dedicated faculty and staff are utilizing the most effective school processes and practices. For that, I am very proud!”

Elkin City Schools had eleven end-of-grade and end-of course subject areas ranked in the top 10 in the state. Eighth grade Science ranked number one with 94.4% proficient. Third grade Reading (77%), 8th grade Reading (74.2%), and Biology (80.8%) ranked number two. English 2 topped out at number three in the state with 75.3% of students proficient. Ranking fourth were Seventh grade Reading (75.5%) and 7th grade Math (74.5%). Sixth grade Reading (75%) and 5th grade Math (73.6%) took fifth place in the state. Plus, 5th grade Reading (69%) placed sixth in the state, and 4th grade Reading came in tenth at 68.1 percent.

School districts also received student outcomes for school performance grades and academic growth measures. Elkin Elementary, Elkin Middle and Elkin High Schools earned a school performance grade of a B. Only twelve of the 191 schools in the Northwest Region earned an A. Those schools operated an early college or academy in the 2018-2019 school year.

The grade is determined by several factors. Student proficiency counts as 80% of the grade and student growth counts as 20% of the grade. The percentages are converted to a 100-point scale and corresponding letter grade based on a 15 point scale. Elkin Elementary earned a performance score of 72. Elkin Middle earned a 79, and Elkin High School earned a performance score of 81, narrowly missing an “A” by four points. In addition, Elkin Elementary School met the state’s growth expectations, while Elkin Middle and Elkin High Schools exceeded growth. This is the second consecutive year that Elkin High School has exceeded that measure.

“Elkin City Schools is a special place,” says Cox. “Building and maintaining strong relationships are our main priorities because when students and families know we care, they feel supported and thrive academically. The entire community believes in the importance of education. When all stakeholders value education and do whatever it takes to ensure students are successful, the results follow. To be in the top five is amazing! It is certainly a collaborative effort between the students, staff, administration and our community.”

In addition to the traditional end-of-grade and end-of-course proficiencies, school performance grades and growth target measures, the state also released ACT and ACT WorkKeys results. ACT Benchmark is the score colleges use when reviewing student applications. The score of 17 or better is required for acceptance. Elkin City Schools had 70.1% of eleventh grade students meet this requirement ranking as 8th in the state.

ACT WorkKeys is reviewed for students that earn a Silver achievement level or better upon the completion of upper level content and scoring proficient on the WorkKeys exam. Elkin district ranked 28th in the state with 70.5 percent proficient.

For those interested in viewing the 2018-2019 Performance and Growth of North Carolina Public Schools, visit the Accountability and Testing Results on NCDPI Website.


County testing results among top in state

Recently released details of state testing scores show Surry County Schools among the top 20 school systems in the state in several categories, while Mount Airy City Schools is touting widespread improvement in its scores.

The county school system also recorded its highest graduation rate ever, at 93%, putting the system in the top 10 in North Carolina, while the city’s rate ticked up from 88% to 89%.

Surry County Schools ranked 20th of 115 school systems in the state in Overall Academic Performance with 64.9% of all tests in all subjects at Achievement Level 3 or higher, according to information released by Dr. Tracey Lewis, director of communications/teacher recruitment and retention. Achievement Level 3 is considered grade-level proficiency.

This is the fourth-consecutive year Surry County Schools has ranked in the top 20 school systems in the state, according to Lewis.

Across grades three through eight on the reading, mathematics, and science end-of-grade assessments, 67.6% of Surry County students scored at Achievement Level 3 and above compared to 60.4% across the state.

Surry County Schools had seven end-of-grade subject areas ranked in the top 20 in the state: third-, fourth-, and sixth-grade reading, as well as eighth-grade science, fifth-, sixth- and seventh-grade mathematics. Additionally, math results for sixth and seventh grades ranked 10th in the state.

For several years the Surry County Schools system has experienced a steady climb in graduation rates, noted Lewis, with the 2018-19 year seeing a record 93% of students from the 2015-16 ninth grade cohort graduating in the spring of 2019, with the 10th-highest district graduation rate in the state. The state graduation rate for the cohort was 86.5%.

The Surry Early College graduated more than 95% of all students; East Surry’s graduation rate was 92.4%; Surry Central’s rate was more than 95%, and North Surry graduated 88.5% of all students, which was an all-time school high for the school. Surry County high schools also continued to outperform the state in N.C. End-of-Course assessments.

Six schools across the district, in addition to high performance, also had high academic growth. Cedar Ridge Elementary, Copeland Elementary, Dobson Elementary, Franklin Elementary, Pilot Mountain Middle, and White Plains Elementary exceeded state academic growth targets for the 2018-19 school year. Surry County Schools had an additional 10 schools meet growth targets.

North Carolina also released the sixth-annual School Performance Grades to the State Board of Education, showing that about 74% of traditional public schools earned grades of C or better. In Surry County Schools, 100% of schools received grades of C or better.

The Surry Early College received a School Performance Grade of A; one of 31 schools to receive an A out of 451 schools in the Piedmont/Triad.

Nine Surry County Schools received a School Performance Grade of B: Copeland Elementary, Dobson Elementary, East Surry, Flat Rock Elementary, Gentry Middle, Mountain Park Elementary, Pilot Mountain Middle, Shoals Elementary, and White Plains Elementary. Nine schools received a C: Cedar Ridge Elementary, Central Middle, Franklin Elementary, Meadowview Magnet Middle, North Surry, Pilot Mountain Elementary Rockford Elementary, Surry Central and Westfield Elementary.

“We are extremely pleased with the results of the 2018-19 school year and will continue to work diligently in each of our schools and in our community to ensure students are well-prepared for college, to enter the workforce or the military,” said Dr. Travis Reeves, county school superintendent.

“Our team are hard at work and are focused on ensuring each student has the tools to not just design their dreams but to achieve them.”

City Schools

Mount Airy City Schools is celebrating its leap in overall achievement, while at the same time noting that it believes that measuring a child’s success goes beyond looking at standardized tests.

“MACS is celebrating a jump in ranking from 54th in the state to 35th in the state for overall achievement, with Mount Airy Middle School in the top 12% and Mount Airy High School among the top 24%,” stated Carrie Venable, Mount Airy City Schools public information officer and special projects facilitator.

“Mount Airy City Schools has a tremendous amount to celebrate,” said Venable. “The partnership between staff, parents and community members continues to positively impact students and the district’s success.

“Recently released data showed that in most areas of End of Grade/End of Course, WorkKeys, ACT, Advanced Placement (AP), and Career and Technical Education (CTE), Mount Airy City Schools outpaced the state. 61.4% of all students in thirrd-twelth grade scored a 3 or higher on EOG/EOCs.”

“We are excited about the great progress and being in the top ten in many areas,” said Dr. Kim Morrison, city schools superintendent.

“Mount Airy City Schools has prided itself on academics and innovation, so while academic accountability scores are important, our innovative programs are also important,” said Morrison.

“Many of our students are learning two languages, participating in paid internships, taking college classes, participating in the arts and athletics as well as starting their own businesses. We are proud of the academic performance of our students, but we are also proud of our students for their hard work, effort and accomplishments outside of the classroom to prepare for their future.”

Venable pointed out some of the areas where the city schools shined in the results: Mount Airy City Schools was first in the state for seventh grade math and ninth for sixth grade math; eighth for seventh grade reading; fourth for English II; and fifth in the state for ACT WorkKeys. Science in grades three through eight improved an average of 10%; reading in those same grades was above the state average; and the graduation rate improved from 88% to 89% with a 100% graduation rate for all Career and Technical Education.

Mount Airy News

SPX plans small operation in Pilot Mountain

SPX Corp., a global maker of HVAC equipment based in Charlotte, plans to open a small operation in Pilot Mountain by Sept. 30, according to the Surry County Economic Development Partnership Inc.

The company will lease the former Elastrix building, also known as the Intex building, at 523 S. Stephens St.

SPX spokesman Paul Clegg said the facility will have at least 10 employees. Clegg said SPX chose the Pilot Mountain facility after a lease ran out of a facility in Pennsylvania.

“We looked around for where we wanted to move the operation, and Pilot Mountain and the Surry County area came up high on our radar,” Clegg said. “We liked the location relative to our customer base and the quality labor pool … and it’s easy for us to get to.”

SPX has operations in 15 countries with annual revenue of $1.4 billion. It supplies infrastructure equipment with scalable growth platforms in heating, ventilation and air conditioning, detection and measurement, and engineered solutions. It has about 5,000 employees worldwide.

“There are a number of positions open, mostly shop floor, equipment operation and maintenance,” Clegg said. “We ask that anyone interested visit the facility between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays at the facility.”

Todd Tucker, the partnership’s president said SPX “will not employ a lot of people, but it is a good Fortune 1000 company that will bring some life back into a vacant building and invest in our community.”

North Carolina’s Best School Districts 2020: Rankings Released

North Carolina’s Best School Districts 2020: Rankings Released

NORTH CAROLINA — Data compiler Niche has ranked North Carolina’s best school districts for the 2019-2020 school year. The rankings were released Monday as part of the website’s 2020 K-12 rankings.

Each North Carolina school district received a letter grade in the following categories: Academics; Diversity; Teachers; College Prep; Clubs & Activities; Health & Safety; Administration; Sports; Food; and Resources & Facilities.

To arrive at the rankings, Niche looked at data from the U.S. Department of Education as well as test scores, college data, and ratings collected from Niche users. (You can read more about the methodology here.)

The top-ranked school district in North Carolina is Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools. Niche gave the school system an A or an A+ in every category. Last year, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools was also No. 1. (See last year’s list as a comparison: New Report On NC’s Best School Districts: How Mooresville Ranks)

Here the top 50 from the list of top school districts in North Carolina as ranked by

  1. Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools
  2. Polk County Schools
  3. Union County Public Schools
  4. Elkin City Schools
  5. Asheville City Schools
  6. Dare County Schools
  7. Carteret County Public Schools
  8. Mooresville Graded School District
  9. Wake County Schools
  10. Watauga County Schools
  11. Orange County Schools
  12. Mount Airy City Schools
  13. Newton Conover City Schools
  14. Henderson County Schools
  15. Davie County Schools
  16. Yancey County Schools
  17. Chatham County Schools
  18. New Hanover County Schools
  19. Lincoln County Schools
  20. Buncombe County Schools
  21. Surry County Schools
  22. Burke County Schools
  23. Moore County Schools
  24. Macon County Schools
  25. Winston Salem/Forsyth County Schools
  26. Cabarrus County Schools
  27. Cleveland County Schools
  28. Guilford County Schools
  29. Catawba County Schools
  30. Iredell-Statesville Schools
  31. Transylvania County Schools
  32. Graham County Schools
  33. Rutherford County Schools
  34. Ashe County Schools
  35. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools
  36. Swain County Schools
  37. Caldwell County Schools
  38. Johnston County Schools
  39. Jackson County Public Schools
  40. Pender County Schools
  41. Avery County Schools
  42. Davidson County Schools
  43. Wilkes County Schools
  44. Asheboro City Schools
  45. Jones County Schools
  46. Whiteville City Schools
  47. Yadkin County Schools
  48. Cherokee County Schools
  49. Craven County Schools
  50. Haywood County Schools

Niche looked at more than 94,000 public schools, 4,100 private schools and nearly 11,000 school districts across the country. The rankings are meant to help parents and students find schools that best fit their needs.

“Unlike traditional school rankings, which rely almost exclusively on test scores and academic performance, Niche’s rankings provide a real-life view of what it’s like to attend a given school,” the company said in a news release.

Comments from current students, alumni, and parents are included in the analysis, as well as observations about things like campus life, extracurricular activities, sports options, diversity, and programs for gifted and special needs students.

“Parents and students need more than test-score data,” Luke Skurman, CEO at Niche, said in the news release. “They need to understand what it’s really like to attend a school before they start the application or registration process.”

River access expands in county

River access expands in county

Surry Parks and Recreation has increased its number of river access points in the county with the recent addition of one in the Dobson area.

With the launching of the Fisher River Park River Access — for which a ribbon-cutting program was held earlier this month — six such locations are now being maintained by the county recreation division. These sites are making it more convenient for citizens to take advantage of recreational opportunities along four different waterways.

“It’s for fishing and canoeing/kayaking,” Chrystal Whitt of Surry County Parks and Recreation said Thursday regarding the main activities targeted.

The newest access point just outside Fisher River Park just beyond the Dobson town limits will greatly aid the usage of that river, according to Daniel White, county recreation director.

“This access will add a much-needed parking area close to the river for fishing and launching boats at the park,” White explained. “This will be our northernmost access on the Fisher River.”

The recent ribbon cutting held for the site at 162 Clearwater Lane, Dobson (close to the recycling center across Prison Camp Road from the park), was attended by county officials, representatives of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and others.

They were invited to stick around for the throwing of the first disc on a new disc golf training area at Fisher River Park, which is mirroring the growth of that sport. Tours of the county park, via a hayride, also were offered for anyone interested, which enabled participants to view a stream-restoration project there.

Other access points

In addition to the latest river access point at Fisher River Park, others operated by Surry County Parks and Recreation include:

• The Hamlin Ford River Access, also for the Fisher River, located at 592 Hamlin Ford Road, Dobson.

• The Burch Station River Access at 116 Greenwood Circle, Elkin, for the Mitchell and Yadkin rivers.

• The Mountain Park River Access in the State Road community, for the Mitchell River, which Whitt said Surry County Parks and Recreation didn’t build, but maintains. It is located at 803 Zephyr Mountain Park Road.

• The Highway 268-East River Access, for the Ararat River, at 2520 N.C. 268, Pilot Mountain.

• The Bray Ford River Access, at 2308 Rockford Road, Dobson, for the Fisher River.

All six sites include a car-top launch/fishing type of access. “Basically, you bring your canoe/kayak and carry it into the water because there is no ramp that will allow you to back it into the water on a trailer,” Whitt described in reference to the car-top launch access.

Car-top boating caters to watercraft that can easily be transported on the roof of a passenger vehicle.

The new Fisher River access point is the only one of the six listed with a boat launch ramp, with the others including either steps or natural surfaces as the types of boat launches available.

In addition to the access points overseen by Surry County, Mount Airy Parks and Recreation maintains two for the Ararat River, at Riverside and Tharrington parks. Elkin Parks and Recreation maintains a trailer boat launch site for the Yadkin River in Crater Park, which includes a ramp.

NC Trail Days celebrates outdoor activities

NC Trail Days celebrates outdoor activities

Hikers, bikers, climbers, runners and paddlers have a chance to explore the natural beauty of the region at NC Trail Days, an event which begins today.

Activities are planned for Elkin, Jonesville and Stone Mountain State Park today through Sunday.

This inaugural festival has been a year in the planning for organizers from Elkin Valley Trails Association, Explore Elkin and the town.

“I think we have come up with a festival that will appeal to many age groups and many interests,” said Denise Lyon, festival director.

“We have such a diversity of trails and outdoor opportunities in our area, and we wanted to highlight them all. So you’ll find not only hiking, paddling, running, biking and climbing opportunities, but activities that appeal to kids, history buffs and folks who aren’t quite as physically inclined. For example, our speakers forum happens all day on Saturday and features luminaries in the world of hiking and trail development speaking on some very interesting topics.”

“You can see the full schedule of speakers on the festival website, but they include two MST through-hikers who will talk about their long distance hikes, a celebrated mountain bike trail builder, a long time trail advocate and the executive director of the Friends of the MST,” Lyon continued.

“This will be held in the comfort of the Heritage and Trails Visitor Center. We also have live music, a 5Point Adventure Film Reel and a Main Street Exhibitors Village in downtown Elkin all day on Saturday. You can even bring your camp chairs and watch tree climbing demonstrations all day on Saturday near the Elkin Library.

“Jonesville has a 5K run/walk the morning of Saturday and then an entire day of food and live music on the Jonesville Greenway. You can bring your bike, boats and boots and get out and enjoy our trails, or you can take it easy and relax. This is what we wanted to create — a great festival that celebrates our trails, our river, the great outdoors and the fun and welcoming people who live in the Yadkin Valley.”

The earliest event of the festival will be the National Trails Day workday on the Mountains to Sea Trail at Stone Mountain State Park from 8:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. this morning. Volunteers are invited to help finish a new trail by removing roots, finishing tread/slope, and other tasks.

A Revolutionary War encampment to celebrate the Overmountain Victory Trail with reenactments and educational activities will take place all day today and Saturday at the Heritage and Trails Visitor Center, located at 257 Standard St.

The official ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Jonesville Greenway Trail and Sgt. Gregory K. Martin Memorial Park will be held at 11:30 a.m. today.

At 1 p.m. that afternoon, Bill Blackley, of Elkin Valley Trails Association, will lead a mile and a half hike to the Piedmont Village Native American dig on the greenway where they will meet with Eric Jones, Wake Forest University archaeologist, who will show the dig site and Native American artifacts. Attendees can park at Hometown River Company.

A 5K and live music will take place on the Jonesville Greenway Trail on Saturday.

At 4:30 p.m. today, a stream clean-up from the Elkin Public Library upstream to the Shoe Factory dam is planned through Watershed NOW (Nurture Our Waters). A Yadkin River clean-up also is planned beginning at 4 p.m. from Ronda to Crater Park, coordinated by Yadkin Riverkeeper.

The official kickoff will be a Trail Days Gathering at Elkin Municipal Park today from 6 to 8 p.m. featuring live music by Time Sawyer and a low country boil food tent. The music is free, and everyone is invited to bring a camp chair and enjoy themselves. A food truck will be at the gathering for those not participating in the low country boil. Advance tickets for the low country boil are available on the event website.

Following the gathering will be the 5Point Adventure Film Night at Reeves Theater sponsored by Appalachian Gear Company and Reeves Theater. Tickets are available on the Reeves’ website.

Other weekend events include a Stone Mountain Hill Climb Trail Race at Stone Mountain State Park, a birding hike by the High Country Audubon group, Tour de Trail Days 40-mile group cycle ride, multiple guided hikes, a dutch oven cook-off, the Main Street exhibitor village with food on Main Street and at downtown restaurants and a beer garden, a children’s fishing event by Trout Unlimited, fly-fishing demonstrations, a full weekend of photography workshops with Julian Charles, a Speakers Forum featuring talks by well-known MST thru hikers, trail development specialists and trail advocates, a photography exhibition, yoga for hikers, a women’s kayaking event, a nature-inspired quilt show, a kid’s activity area, and music and a bonfire at the Foothills Arts Council and Martha Bassett Show at the Reeves Theater to wrap up Saturday evening.

One of the highlights of Saturday will be a fun foot parade beginning at 4 p.m. at the intersection of Main Street and Hwy 21 to the Elkin Heritage and Trails Center along Main Street, which is part of the North Carolina Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Contest for things like coolest dog costume, best bike decorations, cleverest use of kayak or canoe and wackiest wheels will be held.

Sunday will be a short day, said Lyon, noting that a pancake breakfast at the Masonic Lodge and the family paddle flotilla on the Yadkin River will take place then. Visitors and residents are encouraged to spend the rest of the day exploring the Elkin area as well as the Yadkin Valley Wine Trail.

While most events are open for people to come and go as they please, Lyon said there are a few which require registration such as the free guided hikes which will be limited to the number of people on a hike at one time, or for events that require tickets such as the low-country boil and film night.

For more information visit

City votes to sell tract for office

Mount Airy officials voted Thursday night to sell property in a city industrial park to a company wanting to construct an office building where 30 jobs potentially could result.

An entity known as Terra Nova Legacy, a limited-liability company, recently made a direct offer to buy a 4.13-acre lot in Piedmont Triad West Corporate Park, located at the southwestern end of the city off U.S. 601.

The company is seeking to build a 4,000-square-foot office, customer service and retail facility on the property that is near the interchange of that highway and Interstate 74, close to Sheetz. Plans call for the structure to house an online/retail sales business operating primarily in the metal and steel building industry, according to documents provided to city officials.

It initially is to employ five to 10 people, with growth anticipated in the near future expected to raise that to 20 to 30 employees.

Terra Nova Legacy officials say there is also a potential for light manufacturing to be implemented down the road at the facility.

“I would describe it as a modern industrial building,” city Community Development Director Martin Collins said regarding what’s planned — based on conceptual drawings for the project — when briefing the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners on the proposed sale at a meeting Thursday.

The company offered to buy the property, which is appraised at $140,830, for $155,000.

After hearing Collins’ presentation, the commissioners voted 5-0 in favor of selling the site.

“The lot is located near the front of the industrial park,” Collins said.

Piedmont Triad West Corporate Park, which got its first occupant in 2002, became home to several plants over the years since, such as Willow Tex, Axis Dimensional Stone, Central States Manufacturing and CK Technologies. It also attracted two commercial tenants, Hall Propane and Rainbow Child Care Center.

Most recently, in May of last year, an expansion of Steel Buildings and Structures Inc. in Mount Airy was announced for another site sold in the industrial park, with a promise of more than 100 jobs.

Commissioner Shirley Brinkley asked Thursday night about the timetable for the Terra Nova Legacy facility, which Collins said hopefully will become reality within two years.

Terra Nova Legacy officials had indicated that if the company’s bid for the land was accepted, they expect to begin construction on the facility within about six months.

City Attorney Hugh Campbell said the company has requested a period of 30 days to conduct due-diligence tasks such as a title search.

“We feel that our project would be a valued and productive addition to the industrial park and look forward to working with the city of Mount Airy to fulfill our vision,” says a statement from Terra Nova Legacy.

Surry EDP holds Annual Meeting

Surry EDP holds Annual Meeting

The Surry County Economic Development Partnership held its annual meeting Friday at the new Surry County Government Service Center here.

With representation from all parts of the county, all four municipalities, county government and the business sector, 155 people gathered in the government center’s meeting room, many of them for the first time.

“It’s an easy time frame,” EDP President Todd Tucker said of the Friday lunch time slot. “We get a lot done in a short time. People can come out and learn about business in their communities and network with other professionals and their peers.”

Chris Cartwright, president of Prism Medical Supplies, delivered the keynote address, detailing how the business he started in Elkin by himself in 2006 has grown from having six orders its first year in business to filling 383,641 orders in 2018, and projecting 420,000 orders for 2019.

The bulk of the company’s operations remain in Elkin, according to Cartwright, but now include nine distribution centers around the country and an additional office in Las Vegas, opened in 2016 to better serve clients as the company expanded its territory westward.

“Small business opportunities are alive and well here in Surry County,” said Cartwright. “The cost of living is lower than in major mets (metropolitan areas). Overhead and rent are less, and the support you get is impressive. If you’re trying to build a business, there is a positive connotation around that.”

Cartwright said there are a lot of people looking for jobs, a lot of people who want jobs, but finding people who are career-oriented is challenging. Not showing up for work is the main reason people leave his company. Turnover is three times higher locally than in the company’s Las Vegas facility.

“If we want to do 15 interviews to fill a position, we have to schedule 30,” he said.

The company is working to build an organization of career pathing and to create a culture where people connect with more than a job. One of the biggest initiatives of the company is to connect with the community.

Todd Tucker followed up by saying the partnership continues to work on its three core principles: working with existing industry and businesses, acting as a resource to small business and entrepreneurs, and marketing Surry County as a location for new businesses.

He cited 2018’s successes as ACC Coatings moving its location from New Jersey to the old Chatham No. 4 plant in Elkin and Steel Buildings and Structures purchasing 43 acres in Piedmont Triad West Corporate Park in Mount Airy where it plans to build multiple buildings and create multiple jobs. Sonoco Products, Choice Metal Buildings and Bobcat were also helped by the partnership to locate space in the county.

How Do You Reinvent a Rural Economy? $100 at a Time

How Do You Reinvent a Rural Economy? $100 at a Time

“Explore Elkin” takes small individual investments and parlays them into bigger returns for the old mill town of Elkin, North Carolina. Instead of a pop and a fizzle, the program has created a slow burn of special events, marketing, and accurate self-promotion.

The invitations, hundreds of them, had been sent. Ads were running on the radio and in the Elkin Tribune. And still 57-year-old Jeff Eidson wasn’t sure if anyone would come to the March 2017 launch of Explore Elkin. At first the guests didn’t seem sure either, even as they walked through the door of the Liberty event venue in downtown Elkin.  

“We had people show up and say, ‘I only came because I didn’t think anyone else would come, and I know you’ve been working hard on this,’” Eidson remembers with a chuckle. “When 300 people showed up that night, it made it easy to be enthusiastic.” 

At the time, a salvage company was bulldozing the shuttered Chatham textile mill, once the town’s biggest employer. Elkin’s downtown had 17 empty storefronts. The population stuck fast around 4,000, as big cities like Charlotte and Winston-Salem siphoned off residents. Asked by the mayor to head up a committee about reviving Elkin’s downtown, Eidson gave it six months. He’d seen this sort of effort before, a fireworks pop of interest that inevitably fizzled into nothingness.  

And yet the size of the crowd at the Explore Elkin event grew and grew till it was standing room only. There was an energy that brought out the evangelist in Eidson. At one point, he gripped the mic and shared a poker metaphor. “We have to throw our chips in,” he said. “We have to get involved and get engaged to develop a shared vision, and then take the steps necessary to realize that vision.” He pointed at the red poker chip stickers they’d given out at the registration table, stuck to shirts around the room. “Now ask yourself,” he said. “Are you all in?” 

For Explore Elkin, being “all in” came with a specific ask: Join Elkin Explorers, a group that would act a bit like a grass-roots economic development co-op. Instead of the typical strategy of soliciting local businesses for donations (although they do that too), Explore Elkin urges residents to put their money where their mouth is by joining a group that sponsors and creates events to draw visitors and potential residents to town. For $100 per couple, you could become an Explorer, or for $200, an Elkin Explorer Leader. Local doctor Skip Whitman jumped up and offered to match any donations made that evening, up to $10,000. “We raised $28,000 that night,” Eidson says.  

What went right? Partly messaging, Eidson believes. Instead of focusing on failures, he ticked off successes and assets that belied any “struggling former mill town” cliché. Like the school system, ranked in the top five in the state. The Yadkin River that ran through town. The trails that hundreds of volunteers had been carving out of the mountains, including one that connected Elkin to Stone Mountain State Park, the most popular in North Carolina. The location in the fertile Yadkin Valley wine region, the South’s answer to Sonoma. “I think people were starving for an optimistic message and something they could believe in.” By reminding people how much there was to love, Eidson created a feeling that Elkin was on the cusp of something better.  

He’s also used the $55,000 the group has raised in the past two years to create the “something better” themselves. Explore Elkin retained a marketing firm to create a weekly events email, because, says Eidson, “I got tired of learning on Tuesday morning about something that happened on Friday night that I wish I’d gone to.” They’ve given seed money to events. For the Reeves Theater, a historic theater remodeled into a farm-to-table café and live music venue downtown, Explore Elkin has subsidized some performances and advertised others in state magazines.  

The group also organizes its own slate of activities meant to enliven downtown, including monthly Food Truck Fridays, a Music at the Market event, and a biannual comedy show. “They do a lot of things that bring people downtown and indirectly help downtown businesses and help us,” says Debbie Carson, co-owner of the Reeves. Nor is their focus downtown only. For the upcoming North Carolina Trail Days, an outdoor-centric event to be held the weekend of May 31, Explore Elkin hired a coordinator.  

In Eidson’s mind, the purpose of Elkin Explorers is primarily “to train our people to be ambassadors.” Eidson himself demonstrates, talking up strangers at the gas pumps on I-77 near Elkin. “Where are you from?” he asks. “What brought you here?” If they’re staying, he rattles off three or four things he thinks are special downtown, “whether it’s Harry’s Place for crab legs or the Reeves for music. Hopefully they’ll think about staying and come back. If we can get 500 or 1,000 people doing that, we’ll have something.” 

To that end, Explorers periodically creates events for members only, including an appreciation dinner, a trail walk, and a family float on the Yadkin River. According to Leslie Schlender, the town’s economic development and planning director (and an Explorer), the morale-building effect is potent. Going on a fully serviced river trip “gets everyone excited: ‘Wow, we live in this great place! We have a river right in our backyard, and this fun community with people who are willing to get out and enjoy it.’ As much as the money is used for events, there’s this community side of being an Explorer because people see how great it is to live here.”   

Since the launch of Explore Elkin in spring 2017, the number of vacant properties downtown has dropped from 17 to 8. Anecdotally, “around town people are far more positive than they were before,” says Natalie Eidson, Explore Elkin’s 27-year-old “chaos coordinator” (and Jeff’s daughter-in-law). “I think people are interested in opening businesses and storefronts. You’re seeing new businesses come in and renovations happen. They just seem more excited than they were before Explore Elkin.” 

The mill won’t be coming back to Elkin. And if they want to capture the location-independent rat race escapees, Eidson knows they need more market-rate housing. But his small-town, “I’m all in” approach seems to be making a difference in Elkin. “I think about that phrase a lot when I’m asked to do things in this community,” says resident Crystal Morphis, an economic developer who runs her consulting business from a historic building in Elkin’s downtown. “Sometimes I’m asked to volunteer for a committee or help with an event, and I ask myself, “Am I all in? Am I really all in? Yeah, I’m all in.”  

Citizen of the Year Award takes a turn

Citizen of the Year Award takes a turn

The fate of Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce’s highest award took an unexpected turn when it became known the award recipient wouldn’t be attending the ceremony intended to honor him.

The recipient of the Chamber’s Citizen of the Year award is a closely guarded secret until the award is announced at its annual meeting each year, and as a result of that secrecy, some maneuvering is required by Chamber President Randy Collins and the chamber board, to insure the award recipient will be present.

This year’s recipient, John Priddy, however, could not attend the event Thursday night.

“We discovered that John was going to be out of town for his daughter’s wedding in Florida,” said Collins.

The award was presented to him at the new headquarters of Mount Airy City Schools after a Surry Sunrise Rotary meeting there on Jan. 16 by Kendra Clabo, representing Workforce Unlimited, sponsor of the award.

“He was very surprised,” said Collins.

“He was shell-shocked and speechless,” said Dr. Travis Reeves, Surry County Schools superintendent and one of Priddy’s nominators.

That award ceremony was videotaped, and the video was played at the Chamber’s annual meeting at Cross Creek Country Club on Thursday to a mostly surprised audience.

As to how the secret of Priddy’s award ceremony had been kept sucessfully under wraps, Reeves said, “We swore everybody to secrecy. Maybe it was out of respect to John. I like to think it was that.”

“John is what I consider a servant-leader,” added Reeves. “He leads with his heart and gives a shining example for others to follow.”

“Through my relationship with John as chair of our foundation board, I know that he has given countless volunteer hours to the foundation and has done a lot of behind-the-scenes work. He also volunteers in our schools, works with many students on business projects, and goes out of his way to help students. He is passionate about helping students understand credit, to understand college debt is real, and to help them find ways to circumvent it.”

He’s not out for accolades or credit,” continued Reeves. “He has given his time and energy for over 40 years. That’s worth recognizing.”

“John Priddy has been one of the most unsung heroes in Mount Airy,” said Kate Appler, district administrator for the Guardian ad Litem program in Surry and Stokes County and a member of Mount Airy Board of Education, as well as being one of the people who nominated Priddy as Citizen of the Year.

“I worked with John most on the United Fund, but he has worked quietly and under the radar on countless committees and countless boards. He has touched so many people in so many ways as a volunteer,” added Appler.

Priddy was president of United Fund of Surry twice and chairman of the campaign in 2004-2005. He was a member of Jaycees from 1978-1984, serving as president and getting the Club’s Distinguished Service Award. He served on the Yadkin Valley Economic Development District and was vice president of planning and evaluation in 1982 In 1984, he served as fundraising chair of the $1 million renovation and first indoor pool for Reeves Community Center. He also served as chair during his 20 years on the Reeves board.

Priddy served on the board of the Salvation Army for more than 25 years and was chairman of the board. He has served on boards for Habitat for Humanity, Surry Friends of Youth and Homebuilders Association, as well as co-chair and fundraising chair of the original Crime Stoppers for Mount Airy/Surry County. He is a member of Surry Sunrise Rotary.

Most recently he has been involved with Surry County Economic Development Partnership, serving as chairman, and recently finished serving on their executive board.

Priddy is currently the chair of the Surry County Educational Foundation, having been a member since 2014. He is also currently the chair of the Education to Industry Partnership, the chairman of the Business Advisory Council for Surry County Schools and has mentored Project Lead the Way at North Surry.

Priddy also was a basketball coach for 10 years. His son, Stephen, carries on a legacy of coaching as the longtime head of Surry Central’s wrestling program, including conference champions this season.

“John Priddy represents the very best in our community. He has a servant’s heart and a passion for helping others. We are pleased he was selected as Citizen of the Year,” said Collins.

“Okay, you got me. I was surprised,” said Priddy on video aired Thursday night. “That was a surprise. I love this community, and I definitely love my family.”

As to why Priddy volunteers so much, he said, “I like being around folks who have the same heart.”

John Priddy grew up in Danbury and graduated from Guilford College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics. He married Sandra Keaton in 1968. They have three children, Stephen and spouse Bretta, Corey and spouse Michelle, and Megan and new husband Andrew Hock. John and Sandra have four grandchildren; Logan, Ella, James and Rachael.

Priddy started his career with NCNB Bank in Mount Airy in 1977. In 1983 he went to work with United Savings. His bank then merged with BB&T. He was transferred to Elkin in 1998 as the city executive and then moved back to Mount Airy in 2000 with the title area executive for Surry, Alleghany and Wilkes Counties. He retired from BB&T in 2015 as the senior vice president, area executive after 32 years of service with BB &T.

“The resources and assistance provided by the Surry County Economic Development Partnership, the City of Mount Airy, the Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce and Surry Community College were essential to the success of our start up venture.”

Andrew Clabough

President, Willow Tex

Contact Us

Surry County Economic Development Partnership, Inc.
1218 State St.,
Mt. Airy NC 27030
PO BOX 7128

Contact Us

Surry County Economic Development Partnership Inc. 1218 State St., Mt. Airy NC 27030
PO BOX 7128

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