Asheville Grown Business Alliance: Working for now and 50 years down the road

Asheville Grown Business Alliance staffers (from left) Emma Hutchens, Franzi Charen and Michele Bryan.
Asheville Grown Business Alliance staffers (from left) Emma Hutchens, Franzi Charen and Michele Bryan. Photo by Carrie Eidson

With Asheville seeing unprecedented growth and tourist traffic, 2015 will bring new challenges and opportunities for the Asheville Grown Business Alliance grassroots campaign.

“We want to foster a more in-depth conversation about what we want this community to look like 40, 50 years down the road,” says Franzi Charen, the organization’s founder and director.

AGBA is pushing for growth that brings about more worker-owned businesses and more living-wage employers, and fills in gaps in regional supply chains to create a more collaborative and interdependent economy. We are committed to promoting a local economy aligned with principles of collaboration and a triple bottom line. We are dedicated to a maker system of economics and wish to connect those who develop tools within our community to replace consumption as an end in itself. We recognize the deep connection between quality public schools and a thriving economy.

 This year will be an exciting year for the Asheville Grown Business Alliance. Our community fundraiser, the Go Local Card, is slated to have its best year ever with 400 participating businesses. Since inception in 2012, this powerful little card has raised over $50,000 for our public schools and nonprofits.

Starting this year, we hope to bring back our Local Socials — events where business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs, or really anyone interested in the local economy, can converge and discuss ideas to shape our future.

In the spring, we served as a main sponsor for Self Help Credit Union’s conference, “Bringing it Home: Building a Local Economy for Everyone” held at A-B Tech’s Enka campus. In the fall, we plan to re-launch AdvantageWest’s Venture Local conference as the Venture Local Fair in the South Slope. And during the summer we plan to attend the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies conference in Phoenix, Ariz., and the Good Business Summit in Charleston, S.C.

We are interested in looking at other cities and regions that have created training and incentives to form worker cooperatives. We want to learn from companies who have switched to Employee Stock Ownership Plans, allowing retiring baby boomers to sell their companies back to their employees. Over 20 states have initiated studies on public banking and other creative ways to keep municipal dollars out of Wall Street and invest it back into our community. We aim to learn from what others are doing and bring back ideas to Western North Carolina.

Our anchor institutions are our largest and most stable employers. They can be instrumental in plugging the leaks in our economy, incubating small businesses, revitalizing neighborhoods and utilizing innovative employee ownership models. We would love to help explore initiatives like the Cleveland Model, which uses the power of these institutions to grow the local economy.

Asheville Grown is also putting together an official advisory committee made up of business owners and leaders in the local movement. Bringing together folks from organizations like Mountain BizWorks, Just Economics, A-B Tech, Eagle Market Street Development Corp. and AIR, we hope to knit together our collective efforts to become stronger and more influential than ever before.

At Asheville Grown we will continue to work toward our goals of:

• Influencing leaders to shape policy that values and takes into consideration the impact on and of our locally owned, independent businesses.

• Helping to broaden the basis of ownership, affluence and influence.

• Encouraging the diversification of our economy beyond a tourism-dependent model – connecting and growing supply chains.

• Courageously leveraging our community’s assets and the power each of our organizations has to create radical resilience and prosperity for everyone. 

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