ROANOKE RAPIDS, N.C. — When some people think of Roanoke Rapids, they may think of "Norma Rae."
The 1979 movie, starring Sally Field, told the true story of a mill worker's effort to form a union and improve the deplorable conditions that existed in the mill.
City leaders are trying to change that image.
Workers spent years dismantling the old Patterson Textile Mill, brick by brick. It once was one of Roanoke Rapids' largest employers.
"No one in this community would have ever thought the mills would go," Mayor Drewery Beale said.
Beale hopes a fresh start for Roanoke Rapids is being built across town. The new Lowe's Home Improvement Center is on target for a spring opening. It will bring 140 new jobs to the area.
Just a few months ago, Lowe's opened a new regional distribution center in Northampton County. Many of the 800 jobs are held by people who live in Roanoke Rapids.
"Whether the jobs come to Halifax County, whether they go to Scotland Neck, no matter where they go, we're going to benefit," Beale said.
Like many rural counties losing textile mills, Beale and other local leaders want to discuss a plan to generate even more jobs.
The regional approach to new jobs and prosperity was to be the focus of a free oyster roast and fish fry Tuesday night in Roanoke Rapids.
A crowd of 1,500, including some of the state's top elected officials, was expected to attend. Finding new jobs will top the agenda.
"If we don't make changes and take new approaches and go out and get new ideas, we're not going to survive," said Beale, adding that jobs are the first step in that survival.