Local Politics

Economic growth in Robbinsville hidden among NC mountains

Posted October 10, 2014 5:30 p.m. EDT
Updated October 10, 2014 8:55 p.m. EDT

— While North Carolina's unemployment rate has dropped in recent years from its double-digit highs during the depths of the recession, some communities are still struggling.

Graham County in the southwest corner of the state, for example, had a 13.4 percent jobless rate in August, the highest in North Carolina, according to the latest figures from the state Department of Commerce.

Amid the fall foliage of the Blue Ridge Mountains, faded signs mark empty storefronts.

"Those empty storefronts you see, it's kind of like strip malls you see all over. You can't make it," said Gail Wiggins, a Robbinsville native who runs Full Bloom Florist in town.

Wiggins fears her hometown is dying. This year, Stanly Furniture, which once employed nearly 500 people in Robbinsville, shut down and locked up. Many local residents now have to leave the county for a paycheck.

"We need help. We need money coming in. We need people making money so they can buy," she said.

To supplement her own income, her flower shop doubles as the state license plate office in Graham County.

"It's a great business strategy," said Tammy Crisp, who works at the shop.

Crisp said she wants leaders in Raleigh who take an interest in the well-being of western North Carolina.

"I mean western North Carolina past Asheville," she said.

Raleigh is more than 300 miles from Graham County, and local residents say it feels like the state's power structure has just let them fall away.

"I feel like they've let us down – the mountain area. I feel like they've let us down bad," Wiggins said.

Dwight "Yosemite" Lovin, a mechanic in town, said he would like to see something fire up the area economy but noted that North Carolina mountain communities have lagged behind the rest of the state for decades.

"We've always been poor here, and it don't really affect us," Lovin said. "We was poor before the economy got bad. We can't really tell it much when the economy does go bad."

His biggest gripe with state government is that he feels schools aren't getting the support they need.

"(They're) cutting the salaries and doing away with some of the workers in the schools, money for textbooks and stuff like that," he said.

At Lynn's Place, the place in Robbinsville where nearly everybody heads for lunch, co-owner Billy Brown said that, while he's concerned about the local economy in the short term, he feels Robbinsville is turning a new leaf.

"I see this town is going to be a tourist town before it's over with," Brown said. "But, you know, they're going to have to invest money. We don't have alcohol here."