New TDDA director embraces small-town vitality

Published 12:02 am Sunday, October 18, 2015

FEATURE COVER JamieCarpenter

By Mark Schmerling


Tryon has its own personality and uniqueness. Simply ask Morris.


Continuing to recognize the need to build on what the town offers, the Tryon Downtown Development Association, also known as TDDA, formed in 1999, recently hired Jamie Carpenter as the agency’s first full-time executive director.


Carpenter, who grew up in Lincolnton, which is roughly the size of Hendersonville, understands what makes small towns thrive, and further, understands the relationships between those towns and surrounding rural areas.


“There is such a value in downtowns,” Carpenter noted, “because they’re small towns and local businesses. That’s what makes small towns unique . . . For those towns to go away, it shouldn’t happen.”


Carpenter earned an undergraduate degree in business from UNC Asheville, and earned her post-graduate degree in public affairs from Western Carolina University.


Most recently, she worked for the Asheville Downtown Development Association, managing volunteers and events. Previously, Carpenter worked for Handmade in America and for Downtown Colorado, Inc.


Her interest in making and keeping small towns viable, formed in college, if not before.


In college, she performed an internship with Lincolnton’s DDA, helping with events, and conducting a market analysis to learn what types of businesses were needed there.


“I enjoyed it so much,” Carpenter noted of the experience.


Carpenter, who’s been directing the TDDA for a month, has hit the ground with purpose and direction — her schedule has been nearly filled with meetings with representatives of groups involved with promoting small towns.


In boosting Tryon “we follow the Main Street approach,” Carpenter noted, referring to the copyrighted system employed by the National Main Street Center whose website describes it as “a national organization committed to historic preservation-based community re-vitalization.”


TDDA is an affiliate of North Carolina Main Street Community, itself an affiliate of National Main Street Center. National Main Street Center-affiliated organizations have rehabbed more than 251,000 buildings, produced over $60 billion in investment, and have created about 530,000 jobs.


The first prong of NMSC’s four-point approach is promotion and events, or as Carpenter noted, “How do we promote our town and the businesses in the town?”


Part of that requires involvement by the business owners.


“It can’t be all only me,” Carpenter explained. “It’s a grassroots effort.”


The second part of NMSC’s approach is design, which means historic preservation and streetscape facades. TDDA is working to bring back façade grants. This involves educating business and property owners on design standards, in part to prevent making renovations that must be re-done to meet the standards.


Carpenter said her agency will be working with Paula Kempton, Tryon’s community development director.


A designated historic district, being defined by state and federal officials, will include a portion of Trade Street. Business owners there will be able to apply for historic tax credits of some 35 percent to meet standards on renovation projects. Any ordinances on signs would be local.


Point three is economic restructuring of empty commercial properties to accommodate new businesses moving into town. This type of action is often necessary when a business moves out, leaving behind a sound structure.


While Tryon has lost little, if any business to big-box stores, “what hurt the downtown was when the interstate came in,” Carpenter remarked, noting that I-26 has allowed many drivers to pass around, rather than through, Tryon, and not have a chance to spend money there.


Point three asks what types of industry are missing. It also deals with “sales leakage,” a term expressing loss of business when residents conduct some of their shopping out of town.


“We want to have all this data to show them (business owners) what we have, and what we can benefit from,” Carpenter said.


Tryon, with a population of some 1,700 “can’t be supported by residents alone,” Carpenter noted. TDDA focuses on providing small-town experiences that will attract non-residents, whose dream might be to spend time in a small western North Carolina town.


“These are the people we’ve got to continue to attract,” Carpenter emphasized.


Part four is organization, what Carpenter referred to as “the overarching structure of the whole organization, the partnerships we develop,” within the town and county. She noted that all types of organizations work for the economy of the area, with an effort to not duplicate work.


“How can we make the most out of what everyone is doing?” Carpenter mused.


TDDA is “less project-oriented and more strategic” in nature, Carpenter remarked. It has a board of directors, committees and volunteers. Wanda May is the board president.


“Since TDDA’s inception 16 years ago, we’re in kind of a growing-up time,” Carpenter noted, “thanks to certain people, including Carol Browning our treasurer.”


TDDA also receives support from Polk County Community Foundation (PCCF).


“They (PCCF) do a whole lot of good things,” Carpenter emphasized. “They really did see the vision of TDDA growing up.”


While Carpenter explained this, PCCF’s Elizabeth Nager arrived in the TDDA office to note that her organization would provide grants toward two TDDA projects, including Tryon Midnight.


Call Carpenter at 828-859-6484, or visit the TDDA office located at 231-B N. Trade Street. The TDDA is on Facebook (Tryon Downtown Development Association) and online at



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COVER: Jamie Carpenter is pictured in the TDDA office with some former promotions/projects on wall behind her. (Photo by Mark Schmerling)



3483, 84, 85: Promotions for Tryon’s projects from year’s past line the wall at TDDA.