I had looked forward to going to Mt. Airy, NC for sometime. It is the hometown of Andy Griffith and is the setting that he used for many of the places in the TV Show Mayberry. There actually was (and still is) a Floyd’s City Barbershop and a Snappy Lunch (where they still serve pork chop sandwiches). Andy changed neighboring Pilot Mountain to Mount Pilot for the show. His boyhood friend Emmett Forrest, who has a 40 year collection of Mayberry memorabilia that is displayed in a very nice museum at the Mount Airy Visitor’s Center, was characterized by Mayberry’s Mr. Fixit, Emmett Clark. There’s more of Mayberry in Mt. Airy, but you’ll have to go see if for yourself.
I found Mt. Airy to be a very charming town with one of the better downtowns that I’ve seen in my travels. I didn’t see any vacancies and it has a uniqueness that I haven’t often seen in a town of 10,000.
But unlike Mayberry, where Andy always found a way to solve problems, Mt. Airy and Surry County are going thru some tough times. In the past five years they’ve lost 5,000 jobs in the textile, tobacco and appliance industries. And, it looks like they’re going to lose some more in the near future with quotas coming off of textiles and hosiery. At one time 50% of the jobs in the county were in manufacturing, but is down to less than 30% today.
Fortunately, ten years ago a group of visionary leaders set up the Surry County Economic Development Partnership, a public/private partnership focused upon creating jobs and opportunities. They’ve found, as we did when we started our economic development activities, that it often takes a great deal of time to have meaningful progress. But, they’ve had some significant successes in 2004 and have several opportunities that they are pursuing for 2005.
And, I’m guessing that just like Andy who always seemed to figure things out, his hometown of Mt. Airy is on the right track and is creating a better tomorrow for their citizens.