Reported by: Tim Pulliam A declining population and rising unemployment numbers has Columbus County leaders going on the offensive. They are promoting the county's resources to attract business, and potential residents. Adriann Bartow has lived in Whiteville for 14 years. She has seen the local economy at it's best and worst. “In the last few years maybe two or three years I've seen it drop.” Last year at this time the unemployment rate in Columbus County was 5.4%. Now it is 8.5%, one of the highest in the state. As Bartow makes her way to the unemployment office, she admits the thought of leaving Whiteville has crossed her mind. A number of companies packed up and left town in the late nineties which could explain the .2% drop in the county's population from 2000 to 2006. Compare that to neighboring Brunswick County, which experienced a nearly 30 percent population growth in that same time period. Janice Young works for the Whiteville Chamber of Commerce. She said, “You know one of the things about Columbus County is that we are not known by a lot of folks that are moving from other areas.” The Greater Whiteville Chamber of Commerce is using promotional materials and billboards along state highways to present Columbus County as being a good place to live. County leaders are also working with the State Department of Commerce and North Carolina Southeast, an economic development marketing agency in hopes of attracting new business to the Southeast Regional Park in Whiteville. Columbus and Brunswick Counties are also working to create an industrial park near the county line off Highway 74. So far about six businesses are interested in relocating to the area. ”Things will certainly turn around. It's not going to be overnight. I keep telling people it will be incremental, we need to celebrate every success. A new business is great no matter how big whether it's 20 people, 30 people, 40 employees, every new job counts,” said Justin Smith of the economic development commission. There is still a lot of hope in the area.
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