Business Notepad

A resource for runners

Tortoise and Hare: Running Outfitters, a new Asheville specialty store located off I-26 in Biltmore Park (exit 6), officially opened last month. Complementing the shop’s extensive inventory (footwear, apparel and accessories) are such items as race information, nutritional supplements and literature. “We represent all forms of runners, from trail to track, from slow to fast,” explains co-owner Randy Ashley. “We’re Tortoise and Hare, and the slower runners will always come first.”

Ashley and co-owner Mark Lundblad, seasoned runners themselves, also offer such support services as gait analysis and personal training programs. Along with products and equipment, the store gives each runner personal attention, with a focus on injury prevention, nutrition and smart running. Says Lundblad, “I want runners and walkers of all levels to feel that they can come to us for sound advice and leave our store feeling motivated and excited.”

Another focus, adds Ashley, is weekly group runs. “From our location [bordering the Blue Ridge Parkway], we have easy access to trails, greenway systems and roads with limited vehicular traffic. This will allow us to lead the types of group runs our customers are requesting.” A group run for all levels leaves the store at 9 a.m. on Saturdays; a slower-paced group run departs at 6 p.m. on Wednesdays.

Ashley and Lundblad are also sponsoring an event in this year’s Mountain Sports Festival — the Tortoise and Hare 5K Run/Walk (Saturday, June 1, 6 p.m. in downtown Asheville). The top three men and top three women overall will win cash awards; a portion of the proceeds will benefit the local nonprofit Our Voice.

For updated information and event listings, check the Tortoise and Hare Web site (www.thrunning.com). For more information, call the store at 681-5325.

Stoney Knob Cafe reborn

For 30 years, Gus and Minnie Dermas ran the Stoney Knob Restaurant (37 Merrimon Ave.) in Weaverville. When they retired in the early ’90s, their sons John and Yotty took over. Since then, the restaurant has undergone what John calls a “flow of evolution.”

Renamed the Stoney Knob Cafe & Patio, the long-running local eatery is transitioning from “diner to more of an upscale cafe,” he explains. The menu now includes “a mix of everything, from upscale American Continental to … Hispanic, Cajun, Greek, a little French, a little Italian, a little of everything.” There’s even an extensive wine list. At the same time, however, they haven’t lost sight of the basics: “You can come in and get some sandwiches, french fries, a Philly steak,” says John.

He describes the eclectic decor as “hip and funky.” Two years ago, the Dermas brothers added a patio area seating 25 people, half of it roofed. The outdoor space proved so popular with diners, however, that in April they expanded the capacity to 50 people. The whole patio is now under roof (with a skylight so customers can “feel like they’re outside”).

Live music on weekends has become another mainstay. You can expect to hear anything from jazz and bandstand to classical or Spanish guitar.

“Everybody seems to have a good time when they come in,” notes John. “That’s what we want — people having fun, having a good meal, being entertained; the whole nine yards.”

The Stoney Knob is open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday thru Friday; 8 a.m.-9 p.m. (breakfast till 11 a.m.) on Saturdays; and on Sundays, brunch is served from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. For more information, call 645-3309.

Diamond Brand wins big government contract

After 18 months of negotiations with the U.S. government, the Naples-based Diamond Brand Canvas Products has inked an exclusive multiyear contract to supply the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency with tents. The contract calls for an extremely large first-year delivery with options for an additional four years, depending on the military’s needs.

“We feel very blessed to be in the position we are now in, in light of all the negative press that the manufacturing and textile industries have received lately with regard to plant closings and layoffs,” says Will Gay, the company’s president and owner.

“The economic impact and ramifications of this contract extend well beyond just the walls of our facility. Over 50 companies provide us with subcomponents that go into each tent. With the volumes associated with this contract, this will certainly be a bright spot for many of these companies, as most are small business concerns like ourselves.”

To bolster its current work force, Diamond Brand will be looking to many of the local companies that have suffered lay-offs and plant closings within the past year. An estimated 50 job openings will also be posted through the Henderson County Employment Security Commission. “This five-year contract will bring a lot of steady economic and employment opportunities to an otherwise volatile contract-sewing market,” says Gay.

Diamond Brand will be producing two products: the 120-square-foot Soldier Crew Tent (used primarily by tank and armored-personnel-carrier crews) and the Expanded Crew Tent, a 200-square-foot version suitable for crew quarters, an officers’ tent, or a small command post. The company designed both tents with input from the military and the government; both can be erected by two soldiers in 5-10 minutes. “With the military pushing lightweight, portable and easy-to-erect-and-strike shelters, both of these tents fit very well into their requirements,” notes Gay.

He announced the award at a press conference last month at the Diamond Brand factory in Naples. In attendance were Rep. Charles Taylor and his staff were on hand, as well as local officials. Gay thanked Taylor and his staff for the support they’ve given Diamond Brand in pursuing these contracts.

Talent Bank goes regional

The Asheville Area Talent Bank will soon be expanded to serve all 23 WNC counties, thanks to a grant from the Western North Carolina Economic Development Commission (a.k.a. AdvantageWest.)

Earlier this year, AdvantageWest launched www.workready.net, a Web site offering comprehensive human-resources information for employers as well as a simple way to post job openings. Integrating the Talent Bank with this site will enable both job seekers and employers to conduct county-by-county and regional searches. When a job seeker’s expressed interest and an employer’s posted opportunity match, the upgrade immediately notifies both parties via e-mail. The behind-the-scenes administrative system also enables regional economic developers to track the quantity and trends in job postings as an aid to planning work-force training programs.

Another new feature of the Talent Bank site is JobFlow, a posting-and-confirmation technology based on patented software developed by the Asheville-based eWorker Technologies. Employers can have any job they list on the Talent Bank automatically cross-posted to more than 70 national job boards, eliminating the need for repetitive manual entry of job postings to different boards. In addition, the software enables employers to immediately view their jobs as displayed on distant job boards to verify placement and accuracy.

The Talent Bank also provides comprehensive links to both public and private educational institutions in the region for job seekers looking to improve their marketability. Among the industry sectors that are thriving in the region are plastics and industrial-equipment manufacturing, health care, electronic assembly, tourism and the arts, according to the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce. Emerging industries targeted for growth include bio- and agritechnology, information technology and multimedia.

The Talent Bank’s extensive services are free to all users, thanks to financial support from the Buncombe County Economic Development Commission, the Asheville Chamber and AdvantageWest. There are now three ways to access the Talent Bank: www.ashevillechamber.org, www.ashevilletechnology.com and www.workready.net.

Buncombe County’s unemployment rate rises slightly

While the Asheville area has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state, it also joined a minority of areas whose rates increased over the previous month. Only 11 of the 100 counties in North Carolina had rates below Buncombe County’s current rate of 4.7 percent. However, 71 counties saw March rates drop lower than their February rates. Buncombe County’s rate actually edged up 0.1 percent over February’s revised rate of 4.6 percent. A complete collection of current economic indicators is updated monthly and posted on the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce’s Web site (www.ashevillechamber.org) by clicking on “Economic Development” and then “Area Statistics.”

Asheville’s economic future

What’s the outlook for the local economy? What major economic and demographic trends are shaping our future? Get one man’s take when Tom Tveidt, director of the Community Research Center, addresses the question “So Where’s the Asheville Economy Headed?” on Wednesday, June 5, 5:30-6:30 p.m. at the Renaissance Asheville Hotel (1 Thomas Wolfe Plaza). Registration begins at 5 p.m., and Tveidt promises to spend “a fast-moving hour” taking “a fresh look at economic and demographic trends for the Asheville area.”

The Community Research Center is a service of the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce that’s “dedicated to offering objective economic and demographic information about the Asheville area.”

The event is free for Chamber members, $5 for nonmembers; reservations must be made by May 31.

To reserve your space, contact Elissa Linke at 258-6137 or elinke@ashevillechamber.org. For more information about the Community Research Center, call 258-6120.

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