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    August 2009

    Economic Transformation

    ECU Helps Struggling Towns in More Ways than One

    Image-ECU Engagement Initiative.JPG

    By Carrie Henderson

    Struggling small towns in eastern North Carolina have new reasons to rely on East Carolina University (ECU) as they try to restructure their economies and make ends meet.

    As part of its UNC Tomorrow response, ECU has refined its mission and rededicated itself to become a national model for public service and regional transformation.

    The impact is already becoming apparent in eastern North Carolina. Sandra Sartin, town clerk of Aurora, one of the towns working with ECU, says the university is “providing access to services and support that many small towns find difficult to access, and almost impossible to afford. We feel extremely fortunate to be a part of this initiative.”

    Four new initiatives forged between ECU’s Office of Engagement, Innovation and Economic Development (OEIED), the University’s 10 colleges, and external economic and community development partners are helping realize this vision. The overarching goal of these efforts is to bring the expertise of ECU faculty, students and staff to distressed, underserved communities in eastern North Carolina in the form of technical assistance, financial and human resources, economic development products. Four initiatives should help increase competitiveness, build stronger communities, and stimulate economic transformation throughout the region:

    • The Community Enhancement and Economic Transformation Initiative which includes the Talent Enhancement and Demonstration Grants program;
    • The Municipal Management and Innovation initiative;
    • The ECU Outreach Network; and
    • The Engagement and Outreach Scholars Academy.

    OEIED’s Community Enhancement and Economic Transformation Initiative is a broad effort to assist underserved, rural communities. A key component is the Talent Enhancement Demonstration Grants program, a partnership between ECU and the North Carolina Department of Commerce’s Office of Rural Development, designed to strengthen limited-resource, limited-capacity communities in eastern North Carolina. Communities apply to Commerce for funding and draw upon ECU for training in grant writing and administration, support for economic impact analysis and community design and other technical assistance. Beaufort, Edgecombe, Hyde, Jones, Lenoir, Pamlico and Pitt are among the counties applying for funding.

    Another resource for small towns is the Municipal Management and Innovation Initiative designed to provide small towns with additional administrative capacity via teams of ECU faculty, staff, students and other partners to ensure provision of important public services and to help with coordination of community and economic development projects. The initiative is being piloted in Aurora, a town of 600 in Beaufort County, where town clerk Sartin describes it as “a tremendous asset to Aurora and an exciting resource for small towns in eastern North Carolina.” 

    To further help small communities secure needed community and economic development funding, the ECU’s Outreach Network helps local leaders target likely funding sources, collect needed community information and coordinate final grant applications.

    Finally, the Engagement and Outreach Scholars Academy provides competitive professional development opportunities for faculty and graduate students to increase knowledge, motivation, and capacity to secure research funding and conduct scholarly engagement with communities, creating partnerships that benefit the researchers and the communities. The Academy will continue with a class of 10 faculty in the fall and 10 students in the spring of next academic year.

    Taken together these initiatives form the basis of a comprehensive model to determine how universities can appropriately support and nurture newly-competitive small towns.

    “We are very excited about this new partnership,” said ECU Chancellor Dr. Steve Ballard. “President Bowles has challenged all campuses to be more actively engaged in community and economic development, and this is a great example of how ECU can do that.”


    For further information, please contact:

    Kenny Flowers

    Director, Community and Regional Development

    ECU Office of Engagement, Innovation and Economic Development

    (252) 737-1342


    For further information related to the Engagement and Outreach Scholars Academy, please contact:

    Beth Velde

    Director, Engagement and Outreach Scholars Academy

    ECU Office of Engagement, Innovation and Economic Development

    (252) 737-1377