Canton launches new website

By DeeAnna Haney | Feb 04, 2013

The town of Canton recently launched a new and improved website thanks to grant money for improving economic development in the town.

The website was just one small project funded by a $100,000 grant from the N.C. Rural Center’s Small Town Economic Prosperity program (NCSTEP) which the town received in 2010. The purpose of the grant is to encourage growth and prosperity in town, with an emphasis on the downtown business district.

Although the local leadership team, called STEPUP Canton, has developed several projects, the grant is set to expire July 1, and there is still plenty of money left to use.

A fresh, new website was a top priority for the group from the beginning. It was also at the forefront of campaign promises when all four aldermen and Mayor Mike Ray ran for their seats on the board in 2011.

The previous board already approved STEPUP Canton to allocate $30,000 to a new website. Despite tossing around the idea to allow a Haywood Community College class develop the site for free, the board decided the best decision for the town would be to hire a professional company for the job using the grant money.

It’s been about a year in the making, but the new site at www.cantonnc.com was launched last week. It’s sleek, easier to navigate and focuses on attracting visitors and providing useful information for residents, said Town Clerk Jason Burrell.

STEPUP Canton hired Top Floor Studios, a website developing company in Asheville, to design the website from scratch.

The final cost of the project was about $28,500, which includes the first year’s hosting service fee with the company. Because the town paid for the previous hosting cost for the old website, Burrell said they would also pick up the tab for the new one.

Rather than “static” and general town information, as Burrell put it, the new website offers a more interactive online environment. Not only is there more information for residents and potential residents, there is also a business directory that allows Canton storeowners to update their own profile and pictures, thereby enhancing their marketability.

Having an aesthetically pleasing website is important because it’s the first thing people see when researching the town, Burrell said. Compared to the previous site, he believes the new one will give Canton a better image from the beginning for those wishing to live or work there.

“It’s dramatically better than what we had — I think anybody will agree with that,” Burrell said. “It displays the characteristics that the people of Canton pride themselves on. We wanted to show that our community, town and organizations are progressive.”

Other projects

A new website is not the only project STEPUP Canton has allocated grant money for.

Another large chunk of funds, about $30,000, has been dedicated to an ongoing façade grant program for local business owners to spruce up the exterior of street front buildings.

After filling out an application form and approval from the town, the grant will reimburse business owners up to $5,000 or 50 percent of exterior remodeling costs.

It can be used to fund projects such as cleaning brick, masonry, painting, installing new awnings and historic reconstruction, just to name a few.

So far, only two businesses have taken advantage of the money — Haynes Ceramic replaced their glass windows and the small plaza near Canton Middle School had some brick work done.

It’s a project that Canton Alderman and STEPUP Canton member Patrick Willis hopes will continue to make stores more inviting for patrons and to attract other businesses.

“One of the challenges in Canton is the old infrastructure and we wanted to help business owners to fix up the buildings which would eventually entice other businesses to come. Nobody wants to set up a business in an old dilapidated building,” Willis said.

The organization is not sure whether the money set aside for the façade grant will be able to continue after the NCSTEP grant expires in six months, so interested business owners should act fast, Burrell said.

Another initial project the program hoped to accomplish was creating a business association, for which they allocated about $5,000. Last year, active business owners in the community came together to build their own business association separate from STEPUP Canton.

“The business association has been successful in building a relationship with the community college, which is hosting business related training courses. We’re looking for other projects that could supplement those classes,” Burrell said.

Because the program did not need to use the money to form an association, he says they are considering giving the group money to create an official nonprofit 501c3.

“Currently it’s just interested people taking the reins and they don’t have any seed money to go along with their initiative,” Burrell said.

Willis said the group has also talked about using another bulk of the money for marketing projects, such as making brochures and pamphlets about the town to distribute to surrounding counties and chambers of commerce.

More than anything, the purpose of the grant money is to create a more economically viable community.

“We are trying to make sure the funds are spent the way they are supposed to be spent. It has to be geared toward enhancing current businesses or attracting new business to the town,” Willis said.

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