‘A PHENOMENAL CANVAS’
SPRUCE PINE – Many people may not consider mountains, trails and rivers tools for economic development, but a group of people assembled this past week see them as precisely that.
Exposing and developing Mitchell County’s outdoor assets was the focus Thursday, April 25, at the first “Growing Outdoors Discovery Day” at Springmaid Mountain where a team of regional experts from the Growing Outdoors Partnership came together to discuss how Mitchell County can make the most of its mountains, rivers, and trails for community and economic development.
The Growing Outdoors Partnership includes people from the industry, education, finance and economic development. The initiative received a $940,000 POWER grant in October 2018 from the Appalachian Regional Commission. Over the next five years, the project is expected to help start 35 new outdoor businesses and expand 100 more, train 125 students in new outdoor degree programs, create at least 150 jobs and attract $10 million in new business investment.
“Mitchell County and its residents are blessed with a phenomenal canvas,” said Andy Williamson, vice president of strategic initiatives at Active Strategies, a company that bases economic development around outdoor activities. “There is a lot of importance based on the quality of place. Communities have to cross-pollinate and promote your activities. Everybody wants to go into town, but if there’s nothing to do, where are they going to go?”
Williamson is a mountain biker. He said the outdoor enthusiasts with whom he has spoken and interacted are attracted to town with particular things, such as breweries and places to stay.
“We all know it’s important for a community to have diversity and progression in its infrastructure,” he said. “But the same thing goes for a town’s amenities. I am a mountain biker; my family is not. If I want to come here and go mountain biking and there’s nothing for my family to do, we aren’t going to come here.”
Williamson said the meeting had a lot of “the right people in the room.”
“This is how it starts,” he said. “The people with the big ideas and the right intentions are the ones that actually have to step up and make it happen.”
Keynote speaker and Program Director at Outdoor Gear Builders of WNC Noah Wilson said meetings such as the one at Springmaid are one component of the Growing Outdoors Partnership, but is also an important one.
“We have to work with the willing,” Wilson said. “We are here for many reasons, such as doing gap analysis and gaining an objective understanding of where to go from here.”
The more than 30 people at the meeting, which included business owners, outdoor enthusiasts and economic development officials, participated in breakout group discussions about core opportunities for Mitchell County.