Asheville Grown Business Alliance — profile

“With Asheville’s unprecedented growth and tourist traffic, we face new challenges and opportunities,” says Franzi Charen, founder and director of Asheville Grown Business Alliance, a grassroots movement helping level the playing field for locally owned businesses.

“We want to foster a more in-depth conversation about what we want this community to look like 20 to 50 years down the road,” she explains. “We advocate for community- and placed-based economic development. We believe our city thrives with a diversity of businesses, a true ecosystem of opportunity that must grow stronger and span wider each year.”

Charen and the folks at Asheville Grown stay busy. They are currently helping convene two events this spring in collaboration with the Self-Help Credit Union to convene the second annual Bringing It Home wealth-building conference; and Mountain BizWorks and Just Economics to launch the first Workshop on Cooperative Business Models.

Asheville Grown is developing the Buncombe Community Capital Fund to invest more than $1 million locally to small, family- and minority-owned businesses — through a collaboration with The Support Center, Mountain BizWorks, the Self-Help Credit Union, the city of Asheville and Buncombe County.

Asheville Grown’s 2016 Go Local Card encourages a localist, shop-local mentality by giving cardholders access to special offers at 450 independent Buncombe County businesses. Half the proceeds of Go Local card sales go to Asheville public schools.

“As chain stores and a half-dozen hotels are moving in, we must deepen the community’s conversation around the trajectory of our downtown,” Charen says, pointing out that, of the 1,448 businesses in the 28801 ZIP code, 88 percent have fewer than 20 employees and 55 percent have one to four employees.

“Yet, there is nothing in place to protect these businesses,” she says. In response, Asheville Grown is facilitating meetings to find ways to preserve and promote downtown’s independent culture. “Our local businesses define the vitality of downtown. It would be a tragedy to lose them,” she says.

Charen champions a “maker” view of economics, which looks first at who is making the tools within a community rather than who is consuming them. She also urges planners to see the deep connection between quality public education and a thriving economy that works for all.

Asheville Grown promotes the growth of worker-owned businesses, employers who pay a living wage and are aligned with principles of collaboration and a triple bottom line of social, financial and environmental benefits. A business community that supports these values, Charen predicts, will then work to fill in gaps in regional wholesale supply chains and thus create a more collaborative and interdependent regional economy.

 

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About Jeff Fobes
As a long-time proponent of media for social change, my early activities included coordinating the creation of a small community FM radio station to serve a poor section of St. Louis, Mo. In the 1980s I served as the editor of the "futurist" newsletter of the U.S. Association for the Club of Rome, a professional/academic group with a global focus and a mandate to act locally. During that time, I was impressed by a journalism experiment in Mississippi, in which a newspaper reporter spent a year in a small town covering how global activities impacted local events (e.g., literacy programs in Asia drove up the price of pulpwood; soybean demand in China impacted local soybean prices). Taking a cue from the Mississippi journalism experiment, I offered to help the local Green Party in western North Carolina start its own newspaper, which published under the name Green Line. Eventually the local party turned Green Line over to me, giving Asheville-area readers an independent, locally focused news source that was driven by global concerns. Over the years the monthly grew, until it morphed into the weekly Mountain Xpress in 1994. I've been its publisher since the beginning. Mountain Xpress' mission is to promote grassroots democracy (of any political persuasion) by serving the area's most active, thoughtful readers. Consider Xpress as an experiment to see if such a media operation can promote a healthy, democratic and wise community. In addition to print, today's rapidly evolving Web technosphere offers a grand opportunity to see how an interactive global information network impacts a local community when the network includes a locally focused media outlet whose aim is promote thoughtful citizen activism. Follow me @fobes

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