The inscription on Robbins' roadside welcome sign says, "Moving Forward Together." It's a motivating phrase fitting for a town of 1,180, but for Robbins in northern Moore County, the meaning is deeper. More obscure than its counterparts 25 miles away, Robbins doesn't have a golf course, country club or major industry to make it tick. In the 1990s, a poultry-processing center closed and in 2008, a massive fire destroyed the Milliken textile mill, putting 1,100 out of work.

The 286,000-square-foot mill, where Robbins native John Edwards once stood to announce his presidential bid, became a pile of ashes on Kennedy Street.

"For many, it was our history--or future--that went up in smoke that day," says David Lambert, 30, town manager since 2016, who grew up in Robbins. "We were uncertain how to move forward. People lost hope in our community."

Lambert has deep roots in Robbins. His father became principal of the elementary school. His grandfather was a business owner. He and his wife are raising two young sons in Robbins. A graduate of UNC Greensboro, Eton University's law school and UNC Chapel Hill with a master's in public administration, Lambert has a phoenix-like vision for this town.

"Robbins is my home. I believe that it has something worth saving," he says.

Robbins is a 1,3-square-mile Tier 1 community in a Tier 3 county. The population, Lambert says, is 51% Hispanic. Because Moore County is listed as Tier 3, he says, Robbins is disqualified from types of aid earmarked for poorer communities.

"It's a beautiful place; rolling countryside. Agriculture is a big piece, but a lot of their population was manufacturing based," says Pat Corso, executive director of Moore County Partners in Progress. "They need new business stimulation, or people interested in starting a business. It's hard to attract people because there's no infrastructure, no natural gas, no main roads, so we have to develop thoughts and ideas that would help the community redefine itself."

Lambert says Robbins would benefit from improved housing options, child care choices for the younger workforce, higher-paying jobs in manufacturing and service industries, and quality-of-life improvements.

Investing in infrastructure is one of his top goals, along with making Robbins a destination for outdoor recreation and tourism, as a nexus between Moore's golf-centered communities and the N.C. Zoo in Asheboro. The headquarters of well-known Seagrove Pottery is 13 miles from Robbins, up...

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