Ayden - Homegrown Tools

Ayden, NC

Updated: 2018

Instead of allowing failed projects from the past to depress the community further, Ayden creates a new vision, enables local residents to implement the vision and revitalizes both downtown and a sense of civic pride.

Median Household Income2020$53,317
Poverty Rate 202022.5%
Proximity to Urban Center 93 miles to Raleigh, N.C.
Proximity to Interstate Highway 30 miles
Case Study Time Frame 2005-2007
Municipal Budget FY202121.6 million
Data Source: US Census, American Community Survey
View Complete Case StudyUpdated: Ayden, 2018

The town of Ayden partnered with North Carolina’s Small Town Main Street Program (STMSP) to redevelop its crumbling downtown. In the mid 1980s, a highway reconfiguration project rerouted traffic away from Main Street and dealt a major blow to Ayden’s downtown business community. After several failed revitalization attempts by the local Chamber of Commerce and others, Ayden formed a partnership in 2006 with the North Carolina STMSP. The objective of the partnership was to take a comprehensive approach to downtown redevelopment. Since then, Ayden has organized its redevelopment efforts, conducted a downtown market study and improved streetscapes to bring new business and investment into the downtown.


What are the lessons learned from this story?


Downtown revitalization can be an effective economic development strategy. While every small town hopes for a large economic development project that results in hundreds of new jobs, downtown revitalization can facilitate the growth of existing small businesses and create conditions for additional growth engines. Downtown revitalization is also a means to building partnerships and trust among community leaders so that when a big opportunity does come along, the community is ready to act.


Economic development requires a comprehensive rather than piecemeal approach. Ayden made several unsuccessful attempts to re-inject energy into downtown. According to Chris Padgett, this failure may have been because the limited scope of previous projects. In 1990, for example, Ayden’s chamber set up a marketing campaign to promote downtown business. In a separate effort five years later, the chamber tried to improve the downtown streetscape. In each case, the effort was splintered and never dealt with the full range of downtown challenges. Through the Main Street Program, Ayden is tackling a range of issues, from small business development and business recruitment, to downtown streetscapes and façade grants. “In one form or another, our town has tried to revitalize,” Padgett said, “but never have we undergone a more comprehensive revitalization than right now.” By forging such a broad approach, Ayden’s officials and citizens will be able to better address the complex issues facing their downtown.


Connecting with state or national resources to support community development efforts can make the difference. Through the N.C. Main Street Program, Ayden tapped into resources and an approach to downtown revitalization that moved forward more quickly, and with more success, than the community could achieve on its own.