Many lives across Western North Carolina changed on August 15, 2021, especially in the Canton and Cruso communities. The falling rain stirred up anxiety and nerves, but on the evening of August 17, residents, businesses, and the Town of Canton lost nearly everything to the power of water.
“Within hours of the flood, Canton committed to not only rebuild businesses and buildings, but to revive our damaged spirit,” says Zeb Smathers, Canton mayor. After many months of discussion and logistics regarding relief funds, the Town of Canton, who have been displaced since Tropical Storm Fred, have some hope regarding a permanent home for their employees.
After the flooding from Tropical Storm Fred, Town of Canton staff shuffled around the open business spaces in Canton looking for a home. They found a temporary space in the lower floor of the Administrative office of Champion Credit Union, moved to office space in Smathers Square, and have most recently relocated to temporary modular setup.
While relief funds were making their way to the Town, the challenge of rebuilding in a community of established businesses surfaced, making it difficult for the Town of Canton to find a good solution for their future permanent home. That is, until an established business chose to continue their investment in the community.
In 1932, amidst the Great Depression and failing of the economy, the employees of Champion Paper Fiber Company joined together to form Champion Savings and Loan, known today as Champion Credit Union.
Ninety years later, Champion Credit Union is a leading financial institution in Western North Carolina and is still rooted in Canton, with three offices located in the Town of Canton, including a branch office as well as their Administrative and back-office operations teams. While Champion Credit Union enjoys operating in the heart of downtown Canton, the need for a consolidated workspace continues to arise.
“Sustaining a dynamic, collaborative culture remains one of the key strategic initiatives for our organization” says Jake Robinson, president/CEO of Champion Credit Union. “Accomplishing this with back-office operations in multiple locations is becoming increasingly difficult.” During some discussion between the Town of Canton and Champion Credit Union, the plans seemed to work themselves out naturally. The Town needs the centralized office space in the Downtown area; Champion wants to reaffirm its roots in the community and reinvest with a space large enough to bring their teams together with a collaborative workspace.
Aside from the Champion Credit Union branch office located at 3 Academy Street, which will remain in place to continue to serve their members, Champion CU owns the buildings at 401 Main Street and 138 Academy Street. “This exciting agreement between the Town and CCU affords both organizations the opportunity to carry out its promise in enriching the lives of its communities,” says Robinson.
After assessing the needs of everyone involved, a plan has been developed that involves the Town of Canton purchasing the 401 Main Street office building from Champion Credit Union to house the Canton Police Department and the 138 Academy Street office building to become the new Canton Town Hall.
Champion Credit Union plans to reinvest in the Canton community by purchasing the undeveloped real estate along New Clyde Highway in Canton to construct a building that will help accomplish one of their key culture strategic goals.
As has been a long-standing tradition, the Town of Canton and Champion Credit Union are committed to Canton not just as a place, but to her people. Once again, these entities, one private, one public, are sending a clear signal that Canton will forever be home” says Smathers.
While there are still a few steps to finalize regarding surveys and inspections, hope is the leading driver that the Town of Canton will find their permanent, and ideal, home.
“The Town of Canton is excited to move forward with the adaptive reuse of these core buildings in our downtown. By relocating the Canton Police Department and Town Hall outside of the floodplain, we are more resilient to future events and can better serve the community during good times and bad,” says Nick Scheuer, Canton town manager. “The Town is grateful for the partnership with CCU and this incredible reinvestment in our community.”