Old Fort may soon receive an economic boost from two new ventures selected for a regional business development initiative. Opportunity Appalachia, a collaboration of national investment entities and Appalachia-based economic development organizations such as Asheville-based Mountain BizWorks, announced plans to support the Catawba Vale Community Center and Grier Lodging Project in the McDowell County town.
The community center, a 60,000-square-foot warehouse, is slated for remodeling into shared manufacturing, retail, restaurant, educational and community spaces. The roughly $5.1 million project is expected to create or retain 75-100 living-wage jobs. The lodging project, based out of Old Fort’s Camp Grier, aims to create an approximately 75,000-square-foot outdoor recreation hub with commercial space and various lodging options, generating 30 jobs at a cost of about $20 million.
Both projects are part of the G5 Trail Collective, a nonprofit that seeks to use a planned 42-mile trail expansion on nearby U.S. Forest Service land as a catalyst for economic development. “From the inception, we saw more than a single project, and our efforts are really tied closely together,” says Stephanie Swepson-Twitty, CEO of Eagle Market Streets Development Corp., which is developing the Catawba Vale Community Center.
Assistance from Opportunity Appalachia, Swepson-Twitty says, includes critical technical support and guidance in getting the projects started, as well as direct connections with the group’s funders for future capital. “They are providing us an opportunity for pre-development work that happens with construction. That is often the most difficult money to acquire and includes help with architects, engineering and permitting,” she says. “If I had to draw up a wish list of how I would do a development, this is it.”
Camp Grier Director Jason McDougald says he’s particularly excited about how Opportunity Appalachia focuses on comprehensive community impact. The Grier Lodging Project, he notes, plans to go beyond lodging and create affordable long-term housing for young adults interested in outdoor recreation careers. He hopes to work alongside McDowell Technical Community College to facilitate educational opportunities that could pair with the project.
“Our goal is for young people to take advantage of Old Fort, get a two-year degree, a job, a great place to rent, all right there in town,” he says. “The opportunity we have in Old Fort is to move in tandem with the Catawba Vale project, with the town, with the community college. Really, everyone in their lanes working together.”
Opportunity Appalachia received 75 applications for technical assistance from across Central Appalachia (Southeast Ohio, East Tennessee, Western North Carolina, Southwest Virginia, and West Virginia). Nine WNC projects were selected, including the two in Old Fort, with a total projected impact of about 350 jobs and $70 million in local investment.. The full list of projects and more information is available at avl.mx/bom.
Other business happenings
- Hatch Innovation Hub in Asheville will host the relaunch of 1 Million Cups on Wednesday, June 22, from 9-10 a.m. This free event features six-minute presentations by entrepreneurs, followed by 20-minute question-and-answer sessions, designed to “educate, inspire, and engage.” More information and registration are available at avl.mx/boo.
- All Bodies Movement and Wellness, an Asheville-based fitness studio, recently announced an equity fund initiative to remove financial barriers associated with accessing wellness services. “Everyone should have access to a space where they can heal their relationship with their body and learn to move in ways that promote joy and vitality” says owner Betsy Archer. More information about scholarships from the fund is available by emailing AllBodiesMovement@gmail.com.
- Drupal Camp Asheville returns to UNC Asheville’s Sherrill Center Friday-Sunday, July 8-10. Drupal is a free open-source modular framework and content management system used to build everything from personal blogs to enterprise applications. The camp focuses on hands-on training, community contribution and knowledge sharing for all levels of Drupal experience. More information and registration are available at DrupalAsheville.com.
- A new business designed to craft experiences for travelers, locals and businesses has recently launched in Hendersonville. Juniper, founded by former nonprofit executive Summer Stipe, curates itineraries and plans events to save people time and help them better connect to one another and WNC. Juniper held a launch party at Continuum Art with the Henderson County Chamber of Commerce May 23 to celebrate its official opening with more than 100 community members in attendance.