COLUMBUS COUNTY -- There's no doubt the Cape Fear region is growing. Over the next 12 years to 2020 the entire area will see more people, highways, construction -- all of the things that make for the fastest growing region in the state. Some say we're going too fast. But some people who live in Columbus County, say they wish it would grow a little faster. Whiteville residents who think their area should be a lot more popular and populated. Whiteville means a lot to Jeep salesman Charles Dew. He's lived in the Columbus County town his whole life. When he leaves, he's often surprised at how little it means to everyone else. Dew said, "A lot of the people will say I never heard of Whiteville. Or I've never been to Whiteville, but why is that? That wasn't always the case. Decades ago downtown Whiteville was bustling with activity. The area took a hit in the 1990s when area textile factories shut down, leaving many people who lived there, unemployed. Dew said, "If you could get more jobs into this area, I think the whole economy in Columbus County would escalate." Bill Clark is in his first week as Columbus County manager. He already knows the area needs to be mindful of how it grows. But he says with all the growth in surrounding counties Columbus is on its way up. Clark said, "We're kind of in a transition period here as far as our county goes, and I think we're poised to take advantage of our location in southeastern North Carolina." A new Lowe's Home Improvement store opened in Whiteville this past December. Clark estimates that it brought nearly 150 new jobs to the area. "I think we've pretty much come through the nineties," Clark said. " I think we are poised for growth." Residents like dew hope they'll see more of that growth sooner rather than later. "We need a lot more of that. It's put people to work. It's kind of turned people's attitude around where they feel much better about the economy," Clark said. This past December the unemployment rate was more than six percent in Columbus County. That's more than one percent higher than the state and national unemployment rates. Clark doesn't want people to be discouraged by those numbers; there are plans to bring more jobs to the area in the near future. For example a new state prison is planned for Columbus County, which would create about 500 jobs.
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