LIVE: Twyla McDermott – Small, smart and connected: Boosting small cities with students + technology + business

Setting the table for service, Twyla opens the discussion by talking about the wine bar (Newton, NC) she recently opened, in addition to working for the Charlotte government.

She understands government, business, people and that sometimes, size matters. When growing up in Newton (or Rootin, Tootin Newton as they used to call it), she strategically chose her 5 allotted books at the library and then would go spend her brother’s $5 at a beloved locally owned store.

Years later, her mother opened a craft and sewing store (beanie babies) in their small town; the sales declined with the recession and the store ended up having to close. In that same space, in 2013, their family’s wine bar opened. The risk was big.

The economy in decline, the buildings in decay, the out-migration of youth, and the citizens disengagement lead to  the overall decline of the town. Newton doesn’t exist. According to HS students, “outside of Newton, Newton doesn’t exist,” they said. It’s a problem, especially when one is an investor in that town.

The public library moved away and closed its eyes on the downturn of the area.

The resources that exist (civic technology- Hope for America and Knight Foundation and What Works Cities) are great, but big programs sometimes aren’t available for small towns (like Newton). And even if there ARE programs, these towns do not have the resources to discover what may be available.

“How do you evolve a small, resource-poor city to a smart and connected one?” she asks. Opening the wine bar has increased community engagement and created friendships that are connecting people together on civic and local issues. White collar, blue collar, average people, teachers, retirees… all talking about what’s going on.

Schools are also playing a part in the resurrection of Newton. The question is, what is the responsibility of schools to students, to parents and to teachers in their communities?

Ownership started to exist. Civic good is working in Newton, NC. Proof is in the efforts of students and schools that are working on analysis of data to create story maps and means of communication for growth and progress. People are attending civic and electoral events.

She asks, “what is the recipe?”

It’s people working together, and with schools and utilizing technology to lift the veil of their community…” Lack of knowledge and lack of resources can limit us, but civic good is working in Newton and it can work in your community.

So really, does size matter? She says, “it doesn’t.” Cheers!

TEDx Photo Intro - Twyla


About the Speaker…

With 25+ years working with technology + government + clients, I understand the power of place, collaboration and customer service. I have been involved in approximately 7 start-ups ranging from creative arts, to technology and location analytics consulting to hospitality.
I am a community volunteer with active engagement and contributions to workforce development as a board member of Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont, to the environment as a founding member of the Lincoln Natural Resources Committee and to academia as a volunteer educator in a local high school.