In the wake of the chicken plant fire that left 5 percent of Lincoln County workers unemployed, Lincolnton officials are aggressively trying to improve economic conditions.
The city was one of 15 named as a Better Hometown community by Department of Community Affairs Commissioner Jim Higdon during the Georgia Municipal Association's Annual Mayor's Day breakfast Jan. 24.
The designation comes five months after the Aug. 18 fire at Crider Inc.'s chicken-processing plant, which displaced 214 workers. The plant was the county's largest employer.
Lincolnton already has a preliminary plan to revitalize its downtown business district, a plan that would include new lighting, planting shrubs and trees and improving building facades, Mayor Dwaine Biggerstaff said. The designation as a Better Hometown community will help Lincolnton in getting grants to implement these plans.
"What I envision are specialty shops, professional buildings and the idea of attracting tourism with antique shops and food establishments," Mr. Biggerstaff said. "I don't ever think it will come back like it was years ago with many downtown merchants, because they just can't compete with bigger cities and places like Wal-Mart. But we're going to try to carve a niche where we can attract people to our town."
Others from the area named as Better Hometown communities were Wrens and Warrenton. Also designated were Baxley, Buchanan, Byron, Colquitt, Dahlonega, Forsyth, Oglethorpe, Richland, Springfield, Summerville, Suwanee and Woodbine.
The Better Hometown Program is designed for cities with populations between 1,000 and 5,000. The program, which includes a six-stage planning process, provides technical assistance to map out strategies for improvements and economic revitalization. The Department of Community Affairs provides regional resource coordinators to work with cities in meeting their goals.
The Federal Highway Program last year granted Lincolnton $150,000, and the county -- through the special-purpose local-option sales-tax program -- gave the city $50,000 to implement its downtown-improvement plan. Working through the Downtown Development Authority, Mr. Biggerstaff said the city would like to offer grants to help landlords renovate buildings in the downtown district and would like to see apartments created there. The Better Hometown program, he said, should help the city move forward with its plans.
"You share your dreams and goals with them (DCA), and they see that you are making progress," Mr. Biggerstaff said. "This is just the beginning, but we'll have to work hard to keep it a Better Hometown. We're really excited about it."
Better Hometown is a public-private partnership among the DCA, Georgia Power Co., Georgia Municipal Association, University of Georgia Business Outreach Services, University of Georgia School of Environmental Design, Georgia Department of Natural Resources Historic Preservation Division, Georgia Department of Transportation, MEAG Power and Oglethorpe Power.
Reach Melissa Hall at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 113.