Sharon Williams, Roseboro’s assistant town clerk, has graduated from the Rural Economic Development Institute class, giving her, she said, the opportunity to sharpen her professional tools in order to strengthen the town and focus on new growth.
“The class is facilitated through the NC Rural Center,” explained Williams. “Only a certain number of applications are accepted each year.” The 2014 class, which was limited to 36 students, is offered over a period of three months. Each month students meet together three days to learn valuable skills designed to strengthen local leadership and have the opportunity to network.”
Her time in the class opened her eyes, she said, to the workings of town government, offering her insights she will now bring back to the Sampson County town.
“This gives us the instruments and tools we need to network with other towns and businesses,” Williams said in a telephone interview Thursday. “It’s a wide spread group.” The group has everything from minister to Progress Energy employees, to mayors and non-profit representatives. The group will also meet twice a year to touch base again.
“There’s a broad range of people united to bring each entity together to cross hands,” she said. “There are lots of hands teaching us how to handle particular situations.”
Williams learned a wide range of skills, from how to negotiate cheaper rates for utilities to getting better interest rates on loans.
“We also studied infrastructure and networking and how to find grants and loans to build economic growth,” she added. The classes also assisted with developing of social skills through role playing activities. Her class was taught by Misty Herget, senior associate for leadership development within the Rural Center.
“We had an investment person trying to get a loan at a bank,” she detailed about one of her classes. “They wanted to sell water to a neighboring town, but didn’t have any money up front. They were told no, but being told no once doesn’t mean the door has been closed.” That example encouraged them to try a different way, which she said may lead them to be surprised by the outcome.
“This is going to open doors, allowing me to network on behalf of the town,” she said. One example of a new connection she made is with Sampson Community College.
“I learned that each little town can have classes brought in,” she explained, adding that classes would be focusing on business and basic courses about getting a job and maintaining it. The classes delved into four building blocks which are business development, workforce development, economic development and social and civil infrastructure.
Roseboro has had businesses close recently and she said what she has learned will help her work with the town on how to move beyond those closures.
“If people are not able to live here, we can’t generate funds,” she said. “We want to keep people here and encourage more people to be involved in the community.” Williams recognizes more now how that everyday living impacts the community. She also said that the most surprising thing that she learned was how one person can make a difference.
“If you are confident in yourself, you’d be surprised how many others would be willing to follow,” she added. “That leadership gets people to get on the band wagon.”
She was also able to help others, particularly in areas dealing with the STEP program, a program in which Roseboro, like Garland, is currently involved.
“There were mayors from other towns going into the STEP program,” she said, explaining how she shared her knowledge with others during the classes. “I gave them information on how we approached it.”
The program has also caused her to get involved in Roseboro’s Main Street and NCSTEP programs.
“It’s about sitting down and getting the teams together and mainstreaming some things to get everyone on the same page,” she said. “Focusing on one thing at a time will continue making Roseboro better.”
“I’m not afraid to jump out on a limb and make a suggestion or be told no,” Williams added. “You have to change your approach if you aren’t successful the first time.”
It’s lessons like those, she said, which had made the course, and her graduation from it, so meaningful.
Emily M. Hobbs can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 122. Follow us on Twitter: @SampsonInd