Ayden, North Carolina
A Vibrant Community with Hometown Charm
Business View interviews representatives of the town of Ayden, North Carolina, for our focus on growth and economic development in North American towns.
The warm and welcoming charm of Ayden, North Carolina, embodies the essence of a classic American village. With a historic downtown bustling with thriving businesses, the century old community offers a genuine sense of nostalgia. In Ayden, neighbors are friends, and the town is dedicated to providing a clean, beautiful and safe home for all.
Mayor, Steve Tripp, elaborates on what makes Ayden such a special place. He shares, “It is a community that is enriched with family traditions and values. Ayden is a town that has some historical buildings, but also a town that has integrated with progress and growth.” He describes businesses that have been a part of the community for over 100 years thriving alongside up and coming establishments.
Landmark Additions and an Established Spirit
Ayden’s historic downtown district is a treasure trove of heritage and character, which Mayor Tripp proudly points out is witnessing a revitalization. Landmark additions, such as Quilt Lizzy and Coltrane Home and Hardware, have invested heavily in the restoration of historic buildings, helping to preserve the downtown’s original charm. The mayor boasts that Ayden is also home to two of the best Barbeque establishments in the country. “We’ve got one called Skylight Inn located in the south part of town. It’s run by the Jones family, and it’s been there over 100 years and has been recognized in national publication as one of the best barbecues in the country,” he portrays. “And then we have Bum’s Restaurant in downtown Ayden. Those two restaurants are a tourist attraction to our community.” He mentions Edwards Pharmacy, a one hundred year old business with an original soda fountain, which is another draw for visitors to the community.
Currently, Ayden is on the cusp of significant growth and economic development. A recent groundbreaking ceremony at the Minges Corporate Park signaled the arrival of a 225,000-square-foot Minges Bottling facility that will serve as a distribution hub for the region. “They have a potential plan to add another 75,000 square feet, and that building will serve East North Carolina with Pepsi, Mountain Dew and Gatorade,” explains Tripp. “In their building will also be a gaming company, Grover Gaming. Not only are we in traditional manufacturing, also we are looking at technology as a way to bring growth in our industrial park.” CMI Plastic Company, manufacturers of containers for pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, also has a presence in that location and Tripp reports that they are in the process of adding 50,000 square feet to their existing facility.
Another business that is contributing to the town’s economic vitality is Stack a Stone. Celebrating its first year in the community, this stone manufacturer is looking towards expansion. Additionally, Simple and Sentimental, an online personalized gift business, is an Ayden success story. Economic Development Director, Mallory Denham, highlights, “The lady that owns that company is a rising star. She’s a few years out of college and she’s gone from 8 employees to 20, and she’ll probably be at 30 by next year.” To support these growing businesses and enhance the local workforce, Ayden is actively engaged in various initiatives related to workforce development. Collaborating with institutions like Pitt Community College and the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC), the town offers incentives and support for new employees.
In partnership with the North Carolina Railroad Company and Pitt County, the town of Ayden is also building a rail ready industrial site in the southern part of the community. “There’s 300 acres there that we will build on and it will be attractive for a company who need a rail site,” Tripp expands. He adds the EDPNC has also selected that area as a potential location for an advanced manufacturing mega site, which would be a huge economic boon for the region.
The Eastern North Carolina Food Commercialization Center
One of Ayden’s most ambitious projects is the 50 acre Eastern North Carolina Food Commercialization Center. This initiative aims to provide central food processing services for farmers, food manufacturers, and entrepreneurs, contributing to the state’s economy while adding value to local farmers’ produce. “Studies have been done in the state of North Carolina that a lot of our food processing is leaving the state and going to other states,” Tripp acknowledges. To address this, the state of North Carolina has allocated $4 million in funding to establish the center, which will focus on key services including, manufacturing and entrepreneurial support, fresh vegetable processing, processing acidified foods, cold storage, flash freeze and dry storage, and custom food processing. The center will also work with distributors to provide post-harvest services to farmers, including cleaning, cold storage, and staging deliveries. “More or less, it is a value added to our farmers,” Tripp recounts. “As you know, Eastern North Carolina has great acreage for farms, we are known as an agriculture community, and what we’re trying to do is bring value to the farmers and bring value to the people who need food. This is something that North Carolina is really focused on.”
The center is expected to create jobs and attract other businesses to the area, contributing to the overall economic growth of Eastern North Carolina. As well, proximity to transportation hubs, and partnerships with educational institutions like Pitt Community College and East Carolina University position this food commercialization center as a vital player in the region’s efforts to address potential food shortages in the coming years. “It has been identified that over two years it could bring close to 150 jobs, in five years it could be 900 jobs,” the mayor conveys. “We think this is going to be a driver in moving forward. What we’ve seen is that this is going to be crucial in success of Eastern North Carolina.”
A Walkable and Connected Community
Ayden offers a diverse range of housing options within its residential neighborhoods, catering to various preferences and needs. “The town is in a period of growth,” maintains Mayor Tripp. “We have the Ayden Golf and Country Club, which is a private golf course but very accessible to anyone. We have seen 100 homes built around that, and we have site plan approvals for another 500 homes to be built there.”
A significant emphasis is placed on walkability in the town, evident in the recent investment of $1.5 million to add sidewalks and pathways to connect neighborhoods to the downtown area. Tripp details, “I think our citizens love to walk in the neighborhoods, because they are very safe and very attractive. What is so good about that is, you come across friends. When you walk in that type of setting it is very friendly, and more relaxed.” In collaboration with the Pitt County Health Department, the Ayden Main Street program, and the state of North Carolina, the town is currently looking to secure funding to create a historic walking tour of Downtown Ayden in the near future.
Barbeque, Collards and More
Ayden is renowned both near and far for its two eagerly awaited annual events. The Barbecue Festival, known as the “Kings of Q,” celebrates the town’s reputation for having some of the best barbecue in the country. “We have a Kansas City style barbecue contest in which we will have close to 40 participants that come from all over the country,” says the mayor. The Collard Festival, in its 49th year, is recognized as one of North Carolina’s official state festivals. It features a unique event, as Mayor Tripp illustrates, “The Collard eating contest is something that we do at two o’clock on Saturday. It’s how many cooked collards can you eat in 30 minutes. Last year the record was broke by with someone eating nine pounds of collards in 30 minutes.”
Bailey Harris, of the Ayden Chamber of Commerce talks about the chamber’s focus on promoting the town beyond these prominent events. She shares, “Our mission is to promote and grow Ayden by supporting our business community, and by enhancing our businesses. We also act as a convener to connect businesses and bring people together for the overall good of the community.” These initiatives engage the community, while also attracting visitors to the town. Christmas Town in Ayden is one major event which includes local vendors for Christmas shopping, a Christmas Town for kids, a parade of lights, and a storefront business decoration contest that enhances the holiday spirit in the community. “We turn our downtown area into as close to a Hallmark Christmas movie as possible,” Bailey depicts.
Recognized as one of the best small communities in which to raise a family, the town of Ayden is committed to preserving this reputation. As for what the future holds, Mayor Tripp offers, “My goal is to bring economic growth and development, and to provide more jobs to our citizenship, to help those that need jobs. That will be our focus moving forward, but the quality of life is crucial, and the at home feeling, and being a family. That’s what Ayden’s about.”
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AT A GLANCE
Ayden, North Carolina
What: A growing community focused on preserving a small town feel while embracing progress
Where: Pitt County, North Carolina