In search of a town's identity
MAYODAN — Town Manager Michael Brandt likes small town life. He likes his town.
He likes the look of it, the friendliness of the people, the ease of getting around.
He likes living in Mayodan.
Not Western Rockingham County.
Not the "Madison area."
And definitely not Madison-Mayodan.
Welcome to the forgotten child.
For years, some people in ?Mayodan have felt they were an afterthought in the eyes of Rockingham County. Brandt, the town manager for 18 months, said he has witnessed the phenomenon plenty of times.
Last summer, the county commissioners came to the Madison-Mayodan Recreation Department in Mayodan to hold a meeting. Brandt encouraged the mayor and members of the Town Council to attend. No Madison officials attended.
The commissioners held their meeting, and at the end, thanked Madison for hosting the event.
Brandt knows the commissioners didn't mean the slight. He doesn't think it's ever intentional when Mayodan is overlooked. But he understand why people here begin to wonder if it's by design after experiencing it enough times.
"It's a little like being the child with 'Z' as a last name, and you're always in the back of the class because they just put you in alphabetically," he said.
"That's how sometimes Mayodan and the people here perceive how people treat us in the newspapers, at a county commissioners or wherever it may be."
Brandt, 44, came to Mayodan with ideas from previous jobs, including serving as town manager for eight years in Summerfield and four years as planner in Guilford County.
Under his leadership, Mayodan has applied for a grant from the N.C. Small Towns Economic Prosperity Program and has been working with a community group for ideas to jump-start the town's economy.
Having jobs would help.
Mayodan, like the rest of Rockingham County, is dealing with high unemployment. Businesses are shutting down, and it's been tough attracting jobs. Some downtown do well, but there are plenty that are struggling. Others just come and go.
Brandt said Mayodan is focusing on ways for people to make a living here.
"We have business space downtown for coffee shops, for bookstores and antique stores," he said. "Someone has even suggested a brewery — a micro-brewery."
The town recently held a community workshop with a focus on the downtown. Brandt said the turnout for the half-day workshop was encouraging.
Mayodan received a glimmer of hope when it was recently announced that firearms maker Sturm Ruger & Co. was looking to expand its manufacturing operation.
Mayodan is one of four places in the running. Roughly 350 people showed up for an open house and pre-employment screening last week.
Some reports said Ruger is considering using a former Unifi plant in the town. The company is expected to make a decision in a couple of months.
Brandt still isn't allowed to give details about the possibility of Ruger coming to Mayodan. Officially, he can't even say the company's name.
He can confirm that Mayodan has three abandoned Unifi plants and that they are hot commodities. The business that cannot be named isn't the only one looking here. It is the most serious at this point, but not the only one. Other than that, there's not much he can say.
"If they come, it will be a huge change to our economy," he said.
And a step toward moving Mayodan to the front of the line.