Recap of Vision NWNC 2022: Creating Tomorrow's Workforce

Posted By: David Jackson Chamber News,

The subject of workforce trends and realities and the importance of strong workplace culture were the central topics of the 3rd annual Vision Northwest North Carolina summit, held for over 170 attendees Thursday, May 19, 2022, at Appalachian State University’s Leon Levine Hall in Boone.

Headlined by keynote presenters Ron Hetrick, author of The Demographic Drought and Adrienne Cole, President/CEO of the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce the event focused on the workforce realities brought along by COVID-19 and changing population trends, while also underscoring the growing focus on strong and genuine workplace culture as a key attractor for people seeking employment. A total of 27 speakers and panelists discussed demographic trends, emerging labor markets, and provided examples of workplace culture initiatives that have a direct impact on employee retention.

“As we continue to analyze the shifting trends of our economic and labor realities, those regions that work together to identify and solve challenges are going to find a quicker path to economic harmony, “ said David Jackson, President/CEO of the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce. “We discussed trends today that don’t necessarily paint the rosiest picture, but we immediately were benefited by the power of regional collaboration. To hear directly from businesses located right here in our region that have found a path forward around difficult challenges, helped provide valuable context and scalable blueprints for our attendees as they navigate their own realities. It always helps to know that someone has been in your shoes, and when that someone comes from a part of the State that looks and behaves like yours, you tend to find greater value in what they have to say.”

The event was co-sponsored by Skyline/Skybest and Carolina West Wireless and organized by the Boone Area, Ashe, and Blowing Rock Chambers of Commerce, Appalachian State University Career Development Center, High Country Council of Governments, Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, and the Watauga County Economic Development Commission.

Hetrick’s presentation, Bridging the Gap in the Labor Force revealed predictable shifts in the available labor force and highlighted steps employers should examine as they market available job openings. His keynote was followed by a panel discussion including Dr. Leah Bouchard, Director of Research & Data Management, NC Rural Center; Dr. Harry Davis, Professor of Banking, NC Bankers Association, Appalachian State University; and Dr. Pat Mitchell, Former Assistant Secretary for Rural Economic Development, NC Commerce, and Professor of Public Administration, Appalachian State University.

Cole’s keynote, Rethinking Our Approach to Talent, The Importance of Workplace Culture, provided examples on flexible work, employer transparency, connection, and employee development that have been implemented by North Carolina companies, with specific focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion policy. Her address was followed by panel reaction and continued sharing of examples from Chuck Eyler, President, Peak Insurance Group; Kendra Blevins, Training and Recruiting Coordinator, GE Aviation; and Karen Warlick, Human Resource Manager, Blue Ridge Energy.

Breakout panel discussions included topics on Labor Realities and Opportunities, Affordable Childcare & the Workforce Behind the Workforce, Employer-led Housing Wins, Creating Culture & Social Engagement in Today’s Workforce, Keys to Employee Longevity, and Creating a “Friendly” Workspace.

“Northwest North Carolina is a unique and vibrant region, with economic strength that continues to be highlighted by the amazing work displayed by our business community,” said Jackson. “We learned more about so many products that are made right here in our region, from jet engines to candles, and allergy shots to insurance policies. We heard from companies that are a staff of one and several who employ in excess of 1,000 staff members. The common thread between them all was a desire to be a great place to work, where their employees feel supported and part of the process of making the next cool thing to come from this area. Exchanging ideas about how to further enhance workplace culture  will only make our region stronger.” 

The event attracted business owners, 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.