N.C. State University last week announced the selection of a multicounty region in North Carolina for participation in CREATE BRIDGES, a program designed to build up rural economies.

The selected Mountain West NC region includes Jackson, Swain, Macon and Graham counties and the Qualla Boundary.

As part of this initiative, the N.C. Cooperative Extension, N.C. State, the N.C. Department of Commerce, the Institute for Emerging Issues, the N.C. Association of Regional Councils of Government and other state resources will collaborate to pilot a process for helping rural communities build their capacity for strengthening the retail, tourism, hospitality and entertainment sectors. These sectors, which have been particularly hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, provide jobs and business opportunities that frequently boost rural economies. CREATE BRIDGES provides opportunities to customize implementation according to community needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The next three years will be both a testament to the commitment of the people of the Mountain West NC region to collaborate and innovate, and a test of their resolve to become even stronger post-pandemic,” said Becky Bowen, manager of the CREATE BRIDGES program in North Carolina.

The Mountain West NC region was chosen for its desire to grow tourism and retail industries, as well as a demonstrated commitment to CREATE BRIDGES businesses. Its application stood out from other regions because of a history of successful collaborations regarding broadband expansion, affordable workforce housing development and strategic support of the outdoor recreation industry sector.

Generally, the retail sector in rural communities fills local needs and serves as an entry point for new workers. However, entry-level workers do not always understand the available career paths that would allow them to move up or train for supervisory and management roles. In addition to other development measures, the CREATE BRIDGES process will inform workers of the various advancement opportunities offered in these sectors, Bowen said.

Bowen and other N.C. State Extension representatives will work with state partners to facilitate a business retention and expansion program and a CREATE Academy for regional leaders. They will also coordinate with regional workforce investment boards to identify opportunities for workforce training focused on incumbent and new workers. Additionally, the program will look at workforce solutions to retain workers and promote from within.

For more information about CREATE BRIDGES, visit the N.C. State CREATE BRIDGES website or contact Bowen at 919-628-4317 or blbowen@ncsu.edu.