Introducing the North Carolina Main Street & Rural Planning Center

Author: Donald R. Belk, AICP, Community Economic Development Planner, North Central Prosperity Zone

The Main Street & Rural Planning Center is a recently-created agency of state government dedicated to improving the economy and quality of life of North Carolina’s small towns and rural communities through planning for people-focused, asset-based development.

In 2016, the North Carolina Department of Commerce expanded the scope of its nationally acclaimed Main Street Program to create a new entity, the Main Street & Rural Planning Center.  The Center has only recently become fully staffed and operational throughout the State’s eight Prosperity Zones and is not yet well-known throughout the NC Planning community.

The Center works to assist small towns and rural communities with planning for economic development. The Center’s mission is to inspire innovation and placemaking through building asset-based economic development strategies that achieve measurable results in investment, business growth and jobs.

The NC Main Street and Rural Planning Center provides services in the following categories:

·     Strategic Economic Development Planning ·        Administer the Main Street Americatm Program in NC
·     Implementation Services ·        Main Street Solutions Fund Grant Program
·     Local and Regional Market Analysis ·        Downtown Design Services
·     Small Area Planning for High Impact Areas ·        Economic Development in the context of Historic Preservation
·     GIS and Custom Mapping


The Prosperity Zone structure is key to the effectiveness and success of the Center, and by extension, the Department.  Each Prosperity Zone acts as a ‘one-stop shop’, with the purpose of bringing together multiple state functions for greater collaboration and better customer service at the regional level. Commerce has an economic development planner in each Prosperity Zone.  The Prosperity Zone Planners regularly inform – and convene when necessary – their ‘PZ Team’, comprised of designated representatives from the following agencies:


·    Economic Development Partnership of NC ·     NC Community Colleges (Customized Workforce Training)
·    Department of Environmental Quality ·     NC Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services (Marketing Division)*
·    Department of Transportation ·     NC Department of Natural & Cultural Resources*
·    NC Works (Division of Workforce Solutions)
*Denotes an informal relationship; agencies were not included in the 2016 legislation establishing Main Street & Rural Planning Center Staff in each Prosperity Zone.

Prosperity Zone Planners are the Department of Commerce’s ‘boots on the ground’, helping their client communities access the vast technical and analytical capabilities of the state’s lead agency for workforce, community, and economic development. They assist small communities in identifying resources and by directing them to the appropriate state agencies through their PZ Team, an invaluable service for small towns with often limited staff.

PZ Planners can also assist county and municipal planners by bringing the full organizational and technical resources of the Department of Commerce to bear for the development of a comprehensive local plan.  Furthermore, the PZ Planner can be their ‘agent’ in working across institutional boundaries, helping them bring together local, state, and federal agencies to explore solutions to complex problems.

To find out more about the NC Main Street & Rural Planning Center contact Liz Parham, Director, at (919) 814-4658 or, or Darren Rhodes, Rural Planning Program Administrator, at (336) 776-6727 or

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