Conference homes in on WNC’s local economy

The Self-Help Credit Union, in conjunction with dozens of local sponsors, is hosting a conference on our local economy. Entitled “Bringing it Home: Building a Local Economy for Everyone,” the daylong conference will explore local-centric ways to grow the Western North Carolina economy. The event will be held at the Harvey L. Haynes Conference Center on A-B Tech’s Enka Campus on Wednesday, March 18, from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

The event will be of wide interest to entrepreneurs, investors, students, activists and government officials — anyone interested in innovative ways build strong local economies.

Throughout the day, a series of panel discussions will focus on three economic developments themes: starting locally, from the ground up; the importance of including all income levels, races and creeds; working with existing as well as new, innovative models.

Conference sessions are built on a “home” theme. Local entrepreneurs will tell their stories in the kick-off session, “The Road Home: Magnificent Failure and Glorious Successes.” Mountain BizWorks Executive Director Patrick Fitzsimmons will moderate.

Conference-goers will then break up into three concurrent morning sessions. Each of these three sessions will be held twice, making it possible for an attendee to explore two of the three themes:

• “Home Cooking: Creating a Self-Sustaining Local Food Chain” will feature guests such as local restaurant owners, agriculturally minded nonprofits and other food pioneers; this panel will be moderated by Tim Will, whose database, Foothills Connect, helped link farmers (the supply) in Rutherford County to restaurants (the demand) in Charlotte.

• “Home Building: Creating a Self-Sustaining New/Renewed Industry Segment: Fiberworks and Textiles” will look at the resurgence of historically and regionally important industries, with representatives from the fiber arts community; this panel will be moderated by Kimberly Hunter of Prolific Consulting,

• “Home Improvements: Local Economic Innovation” discusses economic innovation and will be led by Kevin Jones, co-founder of Social Capital Marketing.

Following lunch sponsored by Self-Help and the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce and the keynote address by speaker Ed Whitfield from the Fund for Democratic Communities, all conference guests may attend both of the final presentations that bookend the Local Cafe meet-and-greet:

• “Home Investment: Sources of Local Capital” will feature representatives from four local Community Development Financial Institutions; this panel will be moderated by Jeff Staudinger, assistant director of Community and Economic Development for the city of Asheville. Local crowdfunding specialists, investors and bankers round out this panel.

Local Cafe, an opportunity to meet one-on-one with representatives from local sources of capital and technical services providers, will be held between the conference’s final two panel sessions. Resources and providers available for discussion will include A-B Tech Small Business Center and Incubator, Accelerating Appalachia, Asheville Angel Investors, Community Sourced Capital, Asheville Grown, Blue Ridge Naturally, Blue Ridge Food Ventures, Family Business Forum, Lenoir Rhyne MBA Program, WNC MedWeek Committee, NC Economic Partners, NC Natural Products Association, On Track Financial Services, SBTDC, SCORE, Spark Tank and Asheville’s Office of Economic Development.

• The final conference session, “Regional Economic Innovation that Builds Local Economies,” will be moderated by Jeff Staudinger. This final panel also consists of regional representatives from Handmade in America, Rural Support Partners, Blue Ridge Naturally, Shareable, the PAGE Program and North Country Cooperative Development Fund.

Finally, rounding out the conference is a networking opportunity featuring a raffle of locally made items with beer provided by Catawba Brewing Co. and Southern Appalachian Brewery. Conference tickets are $30/$25 students. For more information, to purchase tickets and to view a complete conference schedule, please visit — Michael McDonald


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