High Country Economic Kickoff

Presented by Peak Insurance Group

Regional economist Dr. Harry Davis delivered his annual High Country Economic Forecast

January 20, 2023 - A sold-out audience of over 300 Watauga County business leaders attended the 7th Annual High Country Economic Kickoff Luncheon, Thursday, January 19, 2023, at the Grandview Ballroom on the campus of Appalachian State University.

The event was presented by Peak Insurance Group with additional sponsorship support from Allen Wealth ManagementDMJPS PLLC,  Appalachian Commercial Real Estate, and Skyline National Bank.

A full video recap of the event will be sent to all attendees early next week. An audio recording and recap of Dr. Harry Davis and Tracy Swartout's keynote presentations have been uploaded to the Mind Your Business podcast channel and linked below.



Dr. Harry Davis, North Carolina Bankers Association Professor of Banking and Regional Economist, delivered his annual Economic Forecast. He predicted a mild recession to come at the end of 2023 or early 2024. He added that North Carolina’s strong economic position will likely lessen the effects of the recession, compared to other states across the nation.

“North Carolina has stronger growth in terms of population and overall economic growth, so whatever the recession is for the nation, it won’t be as severe for us (North Carolinians),” Dr. Davis said.

“In Watauga County, it (the recession) won’t be as severe, because the State has a rainy-day fund. If we have a recession, the State will be able to continue without having to slash the budget because it has a bucket of money that can be used to continue to fund the budget, which funds Appalachian State University, which employs many Watauga County residents.”

As part of his 2023 Economic Forecast, Dr. Davis predicts GDP growth will occur at a rate of 0-1% for 2023, combined with an inflation rate that will decline to 4% by year-end. He predicts the FED will continue to raise interest rates by another 50-75 basis points before changing course. After a robust housing market over the last two years, Dr. Davis predicts existing and new homes sales will be flat year, likely dipping to start the year before rebounding as 2023 continues.

“Here in the High Country, if we had more houses to sell, we’d have even more real estate sales. Housing sales here will be a bit better than the national numbers,” Dr. Davis said.

Dr. Harry Davis Presentation Dr. Harry Davis Keynote Presentation Podcast


The event included remarks from Tracy Swartout, Superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway. She provided an overview of the annual visitor data for both the National Park Service and the Blue Ridge Parkway, while further detailing the direct and indirect spending the visitors to the Blue Ridge Parkway provide to its Gateway Communities.

“The 15.9 million visitors (to the Blue Ridge Parkway) in 2021 spent more than $1.3 billion in our Gateway Communities, supporting almost 18,000 jobs and $1.7 billion in economic output overall,” Swartout said. “The Blue Ridge Parkway is the most visited National Park in the country. Along with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, we represent 10% of the entire economic impact to this country from National Parks. You have an amazing treasure in your backyard here.”

Swartout updated the audience on the deferred maintenance funds that were allocated as part of the Great American Outdoors Act, passed by Congress in 2020.

“In addition to the annual impacts, there are significant and generation-defining investments that are happening right now in National Parks all across the country, including the Blue Ridge Parkway, through the Great American Outdoors Act. This has authorized up to $1.3 billion to be spent per year from FY21-25 for crucial infrastructure investments. The Blue Ridge Parkway has a deferred investment backlog of about $500 million. Since the initiation of the bill in 2020, over $3 billion has been spent on infrastructure in our National Parks, and this is contributing $4.7 billion to the US GDP.”

Tracy Swartout Presentation Tracy Swartout Keynote Presentation Podcast



To tie into the theme of outdoor economic impacts, Eric Woolridge, Director of Planning and Development for Boone-based Destination by Design, provided an update on the Imagine Watauga project, which will produce a new 10-year master plan for occupancy tax-funded infrastructure improvements. Presentations on progress will be made over the next two months to both the Watauga County Board of Commissioners and the Boone Town Council before a larger community-wide workshop is scheduled.

Eric Woolridge Presentation


The Boone Area Chamber of Commerce recognized its 2022 Watauga County Business of the Year recipients180 Float Spa was selected as Startup Business of the Year. Alray Tire and Automotive was selected as Small Business of the Year and AMOREM was tabbed as Large Business of the Year.

Click here for a full photo album of the event


For more information about the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce, please contact David Jackson at 828-264-2225, or by email at david@boonechamber.com.

2022 Event Recap

2021 Event Recap

2020 Event Recap

2019 Event Recap