Trends in Employee Recuitment & Retention Discussed at 4th Annual Vision NWNC Summit

Posted By: David Jackson Chamber News,

Examining the factors driving recruitment, retention, and continued training of employees were the central topics of the 4th annual Vision Northwest North Carolina summit, held Thursday, May 25, 2023, at Appalachian State University’s Leon Levine Hall in Boone, NC.

Headlined by keynote presenter Cecilia Holden, President/CEO of myFutureNC, and a small business case study featuring Stick Boy Bread Company and Booneshine Brewing Company, over 180 people attended the annual conference. Breakout sessions focused on evolving trends regarding workplace culture as a key attractor for those seeking employment, and how training, benefits, and other factors play into retaining current staff.

“The Northwest region of the state is thriving in many ways, and we have unique factors that drive our economy.” said David Jackson, President/CEO of the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce. “When it comes to training, recruiting, and retaining employees for jobs based on regional needs, we have plenty of examples of success to learn from right in our own back yard. Pulling together thought leaders at an event like this keeps our focus on regional trends rather than national, or even state-wide headlines that don’t register the same way in our area. Our strength is fortified through relationships with relevant and dedicated partners across the region and effective communication with one another when needs arise. Vision Northwest North Carolina will always serve as a space to talk about things that are relevant to our success and future growth as a region.”

The event was co-sponsored by SkyLine/SkyBest and Carolina West Wireless. The summit was coordinated by the Boone Area, Ashe, and Blowing Rock Chambers of Commerce, Appalachian State University Career Development Center, High Country Council of Governments, High Country Workforce Development Board, Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, and the Watauga Economic Development Commission.

Holden’s presentation, The Future of Degree & Credential Attainment, updated progress on the North Carolina General Assembly’s directive for two million additional workers holding post- secondary degrees or credentials by 2030. She also highlighted partnership opportunities that match industries throughout the region with education providers to spark job growth in sectors that show the most local need for employment.

“Business and industry want you to be educated in the skills they need.” said Holden. “Transferable skills are so important because labor market needs change. Who the person was 20 years ago and what you will need 20 years from now are two different things. How can you continue to invest in your people and upskill with the individuals that you have?”

Holden’s keynote was followed by Creative Credentials, a panel discussion including:

Karen Barnes, Interim Director, NC Tech Paths

An emerging program linking participants to high-wage jobs in the tech sector


Dr. Mike McKenzie, Vice Provost of Academic Program Development & Strategic Initiatives, Appalachian State University

Strategic goals of the App State Hickory campus and its tie to professional education opportunities


Rick Shew, Associate Dean of Business & Career Services, Caldwell Community College & Technical Institute

Deeper connections between business and industry through skill development and work-based learning


Dr. Katie Wall, Associate Professor & Program Coordinator, Lees-McRae College: Outdoor Recreation Management, Ski Industry & Business Instruction, and Wilderness Medicine & Rescue

Use of location and unique expertise to serve the workforce needs of the region


New for 2023, a Small Business Case Study highlighted Stick Boy Bread Company and Booneshine Brewing Company for their approach to using a strong workplace culture as an attractor for employees. A trio that included owners Carson Coatney, Tim Herdklotz, and general manager Michelle Bollman presented on the history of the businesses, and how communicating vision and values at the onset of employment has helped maintain continuity for a staff of over 100 employees between the two businesses.

“Our vision is to have a person leave with more than when they came in,” said Bollman. “For the customer that seems obvious, they come in with nothing and they leave with a box of Magic Cookies and a loaf of Southern Sourdough. On their way out they think there was something different about that experience, and they leave happier. The goal is the same exact thing for the staff. We want the staff to leave, whether it be one year or 10 years later, and think there is something about that time that I had with Stick Boy that not only impacted me, but I also got to impact the business, and we are better for it.”

The small business case study was followed by a panel discussion on Employer-Led Leadership, which included:

Aaron Dawson, Senior Director of Workplace Development, The Industrial Commons, Morganton

Examples of employee ownership used as motivation and a business succession strategy


Cassia Dowdy, Director of Human Resources, Design Foundry

Best practices in developing workplace culture and intentional, leadership-driven, employee onboarding


Shane Fox, Former Town Manager, Blowing Rock

New childcare option for Town of Blowing Rock employees


Talia Freeman, Director of Marketing, Beech Mountain Resort

Housing effort for resort employees


Breakout discussions included the following topics: Professional Education, Training a Digital Workforce, Work Based Learning, Friendly Workspaces, Prioritizing Professional Development & Workplace Culture, and Experiences from the Frontlines.

The event attracted business owners, education professionals, local government officials, and state agency contacts from the 12 counties in the EDPNC’s Northwest Prosperity Zone, which include: Alleghany, Alexander, Ashe, Avery, Burke, Caldwell, Catawba, McDowell, Mitchell, Watauga, Wilkes, and Yancey.

For any additional information, please contact David Jackson at 828-264-2225 or by email at