Sparta - Homegrown Tools

Sparta, NC

Updated: 2022

Through a regional collaboration, Sparta and neighboring communities are laying the groundwork for a cluster of advanced materials businesses. As a key partner in the effort, Sparta is focused on workforce training, infrastructure development and private sector participation in the partnership.

Median Household Income2020$32,347
Poverty Rate 202026.4%
Proximity to Urban Center 72 miles to Winston-Salem, N.C.
Proximity to Interstate Highway 27 miles
Case Study Time Frame 2002-2006
Municipal Budget FY2022-20232 million
Data Source: US Census, American Community Survey
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Sparta’s strategy is to join with its regional neighbors in a public-private partnership to develop the Northwest North Carolina Advanced Materials Cluster. In 2002, after a major industrial employer closed its doors, officials from across the region lured an advanced materials manufacturer to Sparta. The company, Martin Marietta Materials, would become the hub in a regional cluster development strategy. “We’re trying to do something people said couldn’t be done,” said Alleghany County Manager Don Adams. “We’re creating a cluster instead of waiting for it to develop.” To that end, Sparta and its neighbors worked together to create a workforce training program, update key infrastructure and institute collaboration between government and private sector actors. Today, the Northwest North Carolina Advanced Materials Cluster is taking shape, and Sparta, as part of the northwest region of North Carolina, is positioning itself to compete in the new economy.


What are the lessons learned from this story?


Cluster-based development can provide a framework for competitiveness and collaboration among industries and communities. In a sense, the cluster-based approach to development allows communities to collaborate while they compete. Communities and industries within an emerging cluster must collaborate, but they must also maintain a posture of competitiveness with other similarly situated regions. Further, collaborating to compete for industries in an emerging sector brings critical mass to any community’s efforts, especially rural and low- wealth communities, where resources are limited and partners are critical.


Economic development strategies must be focused on building a 21st century economy. By large measure, public officials and other civic leaders in Alleghany County were willing to part with older concepts of labor-intensive manufacturing to embrace the example of the new, more technology-intensive textile manufacturer that moved into the region. By doing so, Don Adams (and others) made possible the development of the advanced material cluster idea – recognizing that the region needed to build a workforce and infrastructure that would be attractive to 21st century manufacturers. This focus on the future helped the region move from trying to replace traditional industries to building a world-class cluster around the emerging growth sector of advanced materials. Embracing the concept of higher tech manufacturing also required a strong belief (some might suggest a leap of faith) that the region could build the workforce, infrastructure, supply chain and collaborative leadership that this cluster requires.


Building collaborative regional strategies requires a neutral, trusted facilitator. Asking local officials to set aside years of competing for jobs and businesses to embrace collaboration requires a trusted and neutral power broker. In this case, John Hauser of Wilkes Community College was viewed by all parties in the northwest region as such a leader. This neutrality was critical to generating initial momentum for the advanced materials strategy. “I really believe local leaders accepted the cluster idea because it was driven by the community college, which was not partial to any of the three counties,” Hauser said.