By Matthew Dalbey
On November 17, I traveled with Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe and USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan to Brevard, North Carolina, a town of fewer than 7,000 people in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The deputies held a roundtable discussion with local officials, community organizations and businesses under the auspices of the White House Rural Council, and released a report, Supporting Sustainable Rural Communities , by the HUD-DOT-EPA Partnership for Sustainable Communities and USDA.
Brevard and the surrounding region exemplify how rural towns can use sustainable approaches to create jobs and protect the environment. These approaches include economic development strategies and land use policies that support agriculture, foster thriving main streets, and build on competitive advantages to improve quality of life.
The deputies toured a former paper mill and Superfund site that has been cleaned up and is now ready for redevelopment. The mill was once the largest employer in Transylvania County, so its closure in 2002 was an economic blow. Thanks to an innovative partnership between the developers, EPA, the state of North Carolina, and other stakeholders, the site is being redeveloped with homes, stores, and accommodations for visitors to the Pisgah National Forest. The development is connected to downtown Brevard and the national forest by a bicycle and hiking trail. And it will create over 2,800 permanent jobs.
Deputy Perciasepe called the Partnership report a “physical manifestation” of the four agencies’ commitment to helping public investments work better for rural America and creating good conditions for private investment. The report outlines how rural communities can use programs from the four agencies to get better results for their economies, environment, communities, and public health. Deputy Merrigan noted the Partnership’s efforts to support main streets in small towns, which are critical to the future of rural America.
Having worked on the Partnership since it began in 2009, and particularly on rural issues, I found this trip particularly gratifying. I also enjoyed the opportunity to discuss the rural work we do with the chief operating officers of two agencies with huge footprints in rural America. It was a terrific experience to be in Brevard to hear how leaders in this region are using sustainable approaches to create great places to live—and to show other communities across the country that these strategies can improve quality of life in rural America, even in these challenging economic times.
About the author: Matthew Dalbey is director of the Federal and State Division in the Office of Sustainable Communities.
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