Watauga Economic Development Commission Holds Planning Retreat

Posted By: Joe Furman Chamber News,

The Watauga Economic Development Commission (EDC) met Thursday, April 20, 2023, for its third meeting of the calendar year, which served as an extended planning session for the group. The meeting was held at the American Legion Hall in Blowing Rock.

Throughout a three-hour discussion, facilitated by Reggie Hunt, the EDC reviewed its current priorities while adding conversations and projects that have surfaced over the last several months.

“The session confirmed that activities we have been spending time on are aligned with the mission of the EDC and beliefs of the individual members,” said Joe Furman, Director of Economic Development for the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce.

After categorizing each of the activities under specific priority areas, the Commission agreed upon the over-arching theme “Responsible Growth” and the following bedrock values/goals:

  • Protect and preserve the natural environment and culture (stewardship)
  • Provide leadership (including funding when appropriate and available)
  • Advocacy
  • Leverage assets
  • Responsibility
  • Diversity of people and opportunities
  • Expansion (of economy and opportunities)

At the end of the session, members selected four top priority areas to focus for the next year:

  • Affordable housing
  • Early childhood education
  • Workforce development
  • Infrastructure

As time ran short to consider other priorities or activities in deep detail, the group agreed the Watauga EDC needs to remain nimble to be able to respond quickly to other needs and opportunities. It was discussed and understood that the Watauga EDC does not make policy or regulations, but must recognize the responsibility to lead/influence/facilitate as needed. It was also agreed that as Watauga EDC members are asked about the priorities of affordable housing and early childhood education, it’s important to clarify that the priority is to “actively advocate for a county-wide effort” to address those two pressing issues.

The Watauga EDC acknowledged at the outset that traditional economic development efforts such as recruiting businesses to relocate to the county can’t realistically occur if there is not enough housing, if there are not enough slots in child care to allow parents to work, and if the work force is insufficient. These foundational items require the EDC’s attention and action to effectively move to the more traditional economic development strategies.

“The participation of our group was great and all the ideas that were put forth were very important,” said Pete Gherini, Chair of the Watauga EDC. “We reaffirmed that workforce housing, childcare, workforce development, and infrastructure were at the top of the list of our priorities. Thank you to Reggie Hunt for his leadership and facilitating skills that keep our discussion on track. Moving (meetings) around the county and involving all communities will help us expand our mission and gather more input.”

“This exercise provided consistency and focus on the economic development issues that are most prevalent now in Watauga County,” said Furman. “We certainly can’t effectively recruit businesses or employees to move here if there is nowhere for them to live and not enough slots in childcare for their young children. We can periodically review progress, and hopefully make enough headway over time so we can move on to more traditional economic development activities.”

The meeting also included an expression of thanks to Blowing Rock Town Manager Shane Fox for his years of service to the community. Fox will be leaving his post May 31st and is set to become Alexander County (NC) manager effective June 7th.

The EDC set its scheduled rotation of future meeting locations, continuing its commitment to move its monthly meetings to different municipalities of Watauga County. The next meeting will be held Thursday, May 18, 2023, from 1-2:30pm at Town Hall in Seven Devils.

All meetings are open to the public. Meeting locations for June 15th (Beech Mountain), July 20th (Boone), August 17th (rural Watauga County), and September 21st (Blowing Rock) were established, and exact locations will be announced at a later date.