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Signs of growth, renewal in southern Nash County

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While the news oxygen was sucked up last week by the fire in Notre Dame Cathedral on Monday and the redacted release of the Mueller Report on Thursday, the truly important news is being made here at home in southern Nash County.

The fire in Paris that appeared to be totally destroying the cathedral while the world watched helplessly was a tremendously sad sight. It upset Christians around the world who appreciate the historical, political and spiritual significance of the 856-year-old church to Christianity in general and the French in particular.

The release of the slightly redacted text of the Mueller Report dominated the end of the week. Its excitement was amplified by the revelation that the “everything is fine” scenario presented by new Attorney General William Barr was not true.

Mueller cleared the president of technical conspiracy, but only barely, and explicitly did not clear Trump of obstruction of justice, leaving that determination to Congress and not to Barr.

But both news items, while big, were only in passing as new events kept coming. As it turned out, the cathedral was not as damaged nor valuable treasures lost as feared. It will be repaired and restored. The Mueller report, with its damning portrayal of the Trump presidency, will continue to dominate Washington politics for months. And Christians celebrated Easter on Sunday, which remains the biggest deal of all to those who accept its truth.

But what’s truly exciting is what’s been happening in Spring Hope for the last several months, quietly but in plain sight.

A medical call center, using both the old PNC Bank and Devil Dog buildings, opened recently with a promise of bringing almost 300 jobs to town — a very big deal for a town that has lost so much of its previous industrial base. The project was assisted by the Carolinas Gateway Partnership.

The Spring Hope Area Chamber of Commerce has been working long and hard to open the new DMV license plate agency in the old Southside Pharmacy building on Ash Street, bringing back to life a corner of town in sore need of revival.

Former chamber president Janice Mills moved mountains to win the franchise for Spring Hope and current president Allen Barbee worked equally as hard with new agency manager Tim Johnson to get the agency operational. The agency was scheduled to open its doors with a grand opening this Tuesday, which is after The Enterprise goes to press.

The third great news was that the old Lowes Foods building, empty for several years and anchoring a virtually empty shopping center except for Memo’s, has now become the home of a large faith-based food pantry ministry, A Touch of the Father’s Love, which moved to Spring Hope from Rocky Mount’s Battleboro community.

The pantry, partnered with the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, has two weekly walk-up food distributions, on Wednesday and Saturday mornings. The 28,000 square-foot building gives the pantry a lot of room to grow, and the increased traffic to the shopping center, even limited for now, may be a catalyst to revive other storefronts with new businesses.

Bailey and Middlesex are seeing their share of successes. The county has been steadily building up the Middlesex Corporate Centre, erecting a shell building and now putting in the supporting infrastructure. Bailey commissioners this month agreed to try to restore an old hardware store on Main Street rather than tear it down.

All the stories have been covered individually in The Enterprise, but when you add them all up, it becomes obvious that Spring Hope in particular is seeing a long-needed, much-appreciated business growth spurt.

Empty business buildings are getting new life, bringing fresh energy along with new jobs. Though it’s been long overdue, the growth is part of the town’s natural life cycle. Businesses come and go over the decades, and to see the old buildings stir again is not only big news for Spring Hope, it is a hopeful omen for the future.

It will be interesting, and a challenge, to see how and whether the new downtown development board, which has replaced the former revitalization commission, can build upon the momentum established by the new businesses. Other buildings remain empty or underused. All ideas are welcome.

One big but easy thing residents can do now is to give their input into what they want their town to be like for the next 20 years. The planning board has begun work on the town’s next 20-year land use plan, a carefully thought-out guide which helps the town plan and prepare for the kind of growth it expects and wants.

The project, which is being assisted by the regional Council of Governments, will take months of hard work. I know, I’ve been through the process twice. The planning board will be busy.

But the first thing the town is doing is to take a survey of what residents want. A comprehensive questionnaire is on the town’s website and available at the town hall. Please get a copy and fill it out. The answers the town gets will play a critical role in planning for the future. Hearings and town meetings will also be involved in the months ahead.

There’s a lot going on in the world, but there’s an awful lot of things going on here at home too, for the better.

Ken Ripley is a resident of Spring Hope and The Enterprise’s editor and publisher emeritus.

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