At Moogfest’s first big panel discussion on April 23, state and local leaders discussed the role of technology and innovation in cultivating economic development.
Mike Adams, CEO of Moog Music, said the goal of the panel was to “get people thinking about economic development” in ways that are outside of the box. “It doesn’t have to be just the traditional economic development approach… We’re transforming from an industrial age to an information age.”
Asheville has become “a place where a lot of young people want to be,” he said, asking, “but how do we capitalize on that in a meaningful way?”
Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer also participated as a panelist, and said that the ultimate economic goal is to take actions so that young people can “find high-paying, high-quality jobs that are fulfilling.” Supporting Moogfest with $90,000 in grants and in-kind donations is an investment in helping lure innovative job creators to town, she said. Other steps, Manheimer said, include building the kind of pedestrian infrastructure and educational programs that increase the area’s quality of life.
“To get into hi-tech jobs, we need to look at education,” she said, noting that a big challenge is that the area lags behind other cities in terms of the percentage of the population that has advanced degrees.
Adams also lamented the area’s lack of highly skilled workers in technology and engineering. The last three employes his company hired, he said, came from California, because it couldn’t find qualified local applicants.
Panelist Casey Steinbacher, CEO of the Durham Chamber of Commerce, advised local leaders that the best thing they can do to lure savvy companies and workers to Asheville is improve the quality of life through smart investment in infrastructure and social programs. Investing in multimodal public transportation infrastructure is key, she said.
Car ownership is less important to a new generation of educated workers who are looking for walkability and livability, she said. Her organization is working with others to build a new high-speed rail system between Durham, Chapel Hill and the Research Triangle Park, she reported.
Economic incentives play a role in luring companies to relocate and expand, Steinbacher added, but such arrangements aren’t as important to fostering a creative culture as good schools. The most important draw for a technology company is the talent pool, she said.
Robert Geolas, CEO of the research Triangle Park Foundation, agreed. Ultimately, he said, companies’ location decisions are based more on quality of life factors than tax breaks. “People are willing to pay more, when they get more for it,” he said.
Scroll through the slideshow to see more photos from the protest outside of Diana Wortham Theater. (Alicia Funderburk/ Mountain Xpress)
Protestors declare short-lived victory; McCrory makes surprise Moogfest appearance
North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory was originally scheduled to appear on the panel, but was disinvited by Moogfest organizers after local protestors planned a rally outside of Diana Wortham Theater, where the event was held.
However, about 50 protestors still showed up outside of the panel discussion at the Vance Memorial. They rallied against a wide variety of GOP state policies, from legislators refusal to expand Medicaid access to the approval of more restrictive voter laws.
Rally organizer Andrew Lafiosca said McCrory’s removal from the next door panel discussion was a “victory.”
“Because of our efforts, the governor was told to stay home,” he declared. “The reality is we can make a difference.”
The protestors, Lafiosca said, were “not against growing the economy.” But he alleged that McCrory is corrupt and that protestors didn’t want the governor to “use our city as a PR rest stop.”
Meanwhile, a short while later, McCrory made a surprise appearance at a Moogfest VIP party just down the road at the Aloft Hotel. He mingled with attendees for about an hour and reportedly said he supported Moogfest’s goal of boosting the economy.