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Gov. Cooper visits Kinston to promote 'Hometown Strong,' check on progress there

"I grew up in rural Eastern North Carolina and know the opportunities and the challenges that our rural areas face," said Cooper who visited Kinston Tuesday to see what progress is being made there. (Stephanie Brown, NewsChannel 12 photo)

Gov. Roy Cooper was in Kinston Tuesday to discuss the state's partnership with many small communities that are a lot like the one he grew up in.

Cooper's "Hometown Strong" is all about encouraging growth in rural communities like Kinston, giving locals incentive to stay and draw in newcomers. In Kinston, that means building up the cultural arts community.

"When you want to go somewhere, do you want to go somewhere that just has a Wal-Mart? Or do you want to go somewhere where crazy things are happening?" said Brandon McCullar, a local artist.

McCullar visited Kinston once and fell in love with the city and everything that was ahppening. He's now part of Smart Kinston, a nonprofit with a goal to build the city's arts economy.

"Every artist has an opportunity to be on the ground floor of something, or they can come back and it's already developed," McCullar said. "And I wanted to be on the ground floor."

Smart Kinston is one of the groups working within Cooper's program of promoting visual arts, music, performance art and everything in-between.

"I grew up in rural Eastern North Carolina and know the opportunities and the challenges that our rural areas face," said Cooper who visited Kinston Tuesday to see what progress is being made there.

Stephen Hill is chairman of Smart Kinston and said he ultimately wants to see strengthening of the arts because it will strengthen the area's economy.

"They want cultural assets," Hill said. "They want things for their employees to be able to do. If they don't have that they're not going to Locate there, so therefore you continually don't get those jobs, they go somewhere else."

Some of Smart Kinston's achievements include rehabilitating more than 50 vacant homes in the arts district and an African-American music heritage trail. Cooper's imitative also focuses on infrastructure improvement, broadband access and workforce training.

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