The green economy, the power of manufacturing and the economic value of an educated work force cropped up repeatedly during AdvantageWest's economic summit, Pathways to a New Economy, held March 29 in the Diana Wortham Theatre.
"We had people from all over," says President and CEO Scott Hamilton: business owners, elected officials, community leaders and other interested folks. AdvantageWest, a public/private economic-development partnership, serves 23 western counties.
After networking over drinks and dinner in the lobby, attendees moved to the theater, where Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy gave a brief welcoming address and five economic bigwigs held a panel discussion.
"We face economic challenges the rest of the state doesn't," Sen. Richard Burr asserted in a prerecorded video address, noting that much of the region lacks critical infrastructure.
North Carolina Commerce Secretary Keith Crisco acknowledged that in the current economic climate, he probably couldn't have gotten the U.S. Small Business Administration loan that helped him start his own small business. He also emphasized the importance of green jobs, citing botanical products unique to the area and niche manufacturing as ways to grow the local economy.
State Sen. Martin Nesbitt, too, talked about exporting botanical products. He also mentioned the North Carolina Center for Health and Aging, which he said could become a local "center of excellence" in what he called "the future of medicine."
Other potential exports include eco-friendly products, noted Nesbitt. "We've got to produce stuff," he declared. "That's the kind of world we're gonna be in."
And protecting failing industries rather than embracing change could result in a "downfall of America," he maintained. "We've got to be aggressive; we've got to move to these new industries."
Raleigh attorney Martin Lancaster stressed the importance of maintaining a well-prepared work force.
"The key to N.C.'s future is education," he continued. "The key to education is we don't coddle our students; we expect achievement."
Lancaster also cited industries such as heating and cooling systems "that need to be completely re-engineered" for sustainability, giving the region a chance to be at the cutting edge of change.
Nelson Schwab III, a managing partner of Carousel Capital in Charlotte, discussed the current shortage of working capital. "You gotta find it," he said. "You've got to bitch and complain," suggesting small private investors as a potential source of short-term working capital in the current economic climate.