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Erwin Battles Over Whether To Create New Jobs, Showcase Old Ones

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ERWIN, N.C. — North Carolina's $17 billion budget contains money for 18 museums valued at more than $4 million -- all special projects for lawmakers, which are often referred to as "pork projects."

The state allocated $2 million for the ACC Hall of Champions in Guilford County; $1 million for a Museum of the Cape Fear in Cumberland County; $500,000 for the Turnage Theater in Beaufort County; and $400,000 for the Sparta Teapot Museum in Alleghany County.

Sometimes, though, the money for a "pork project" isn't used for the specific project.

Take the Harnett County town of


, for example.

Erwin was a small town with a big industry: textiles. It stayed that way until 2000.

That's when Erwin's largest plant, Swift Denim, closed, and 700 people lost their jobs.

"Oh, it was real terrible because a lot of people that had been living here most of their life had bought homes and whatnot," former plant employee Catherine Wilson said. "They lost their homes; they lost their cars."

Now, the town has a chance to highlight that history. The state gave Erwin $500,000 to build a textile museum. But, city leaders have other plans.

They voted to use the money for economic development instead of a museum.

Erwin's town attorney Mac Hunter said the state signed off on it.

"The town's changed. The mill is closed. There's not a big push for a textile museum," Hunter said. "We don't see how we can make any money having a textile museum."

Still, those who want the museum, including former state lawmaker Bobby Hall, have sued.

"This was a sad day for me, as a former resident of Erwin, to file a federal lawsuit to obtain funds that were allocated for a North Carolina textile museum to honor all those people who worked for the textile industry," said Hall, who helped Erwin land the money for the museum.

Both sides agree textiles are the fabric of the community, but the question is whether to use state money to create new jobs or showcase old ones.

Town leaders have not decided where they would put a museum. They are focusing more on ways to attract business, they said.


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