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Heralding a New Era in Asheville

By Kari Kynard Ridge on June 26, 2020

It is an exciting time for Asheville as the region welcomes new leadership and the community comes together to implement the AVL Greater strategic plan. Led by the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, the plan was introduced in June 2018 through consulting with economist and futurist Rebecca Ryan and already has dozens of partners throughout the region. AVL Greater features four strategic initiatives: Growing Up, Leadership, Economic Mobility & Shared Prosperity, and A Place for All People.

“We started the AVL Greater visioning process in an effort to get organizations across the community focused on a few key ‘guiding stars’ issues so that we could be more impactful,†says Kit Cramer, Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO. “Many of the ways we’re approaching these issues cross over organizations, both public and private.”

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Growing Up

Western North Carolina communities share challenges associated with growth, including low housing inventory, affordable housing shortages and longer commutes between communities that strain aging infrastructure.

AVL Greater seeks to strengthen the region’s economy over the long term by bringing communities together to think regionally and work together rather than take individualized approaches to workforce development, education, transportation, wellness and opportunity. Comprehensive studies of Buncombe County and Asheville land are underway to identify the most promising sites for future industrial development parcels and/or commerce parks that will attract advanced manufacturing as well as corporate office and technology employers. Plans include real-time inventory of land suitable for development.

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Under the second AVL Greater initiative, representatives from regional councils of government, such as Land of Sky and leaders from area chambers of commerce are working together with employers to convene quarterly summits of leaders from Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson, Madison and Transylvania counties.

These summits support a more regional approach to growth by bringing participants together to exchange ideas, share strategies and build lasting rapport. Early conversations with leaders in target counties have identified workforce development, housing and opportunity zones as potential topics. Ultimately, the summits can scale to fit a broader footprint over time and include neighboring communities outside the five counties.

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Economic Mobility & Shared Prosperity

The Equity Employer Partner Program builds upon an existing Asheville Housing Authority (AHA) plan to increase workforce participation and job retention for housing authority residents. The ultimate goal is to empower and support families experiencing poverty during their transition from surviving to thriving through meaningful employment and upward mobility.

Components of the Equity Employer Partner Program include developing alliances and equity partnerships with living wage employers that have advancement opportunities, facilitating access to support services and wealth building through family self-sufficiency case management and providing one-onone mentorship with a success coach. AHA, UpSkill WNC, A-B Technical Community College, Mountain Area Workforce Development Board and other community partners are developing this initiative to connect families experiencing poverty to living wage jobs with opportunities for advancement.

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A Place for All People

AVL Greater is also creating plans to ensure that Asheville-Buncombe County is a welcoming community that embraces and engages people of color, young families and retirees as well as becomes a place where all people can succeed.

The Equity Employer Partner Program points out that living in a community of people with jobs is one of the most critical leading indicators of a child’s economic mobility and that families experiencing poverty have many barriers to obtaining a career-track job and advancing their skills and upward mobility, given the day-today stress of instability. The program strives to address this by forming relationships between residents and ally employers who understand the background and circumstances of the individuals.

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“It’s my hope that that kind of collaboration will continue so that we can make progress on these key areas,†Cramer says. “We’ve used what we learned through AVL Greater to inform our planning process – so have other organizations, including our local government bodies. If we’re all pulling together, maybe in different ways, but in the same direction, we’re bound to make progress.”

If you’d like to learn more about the Asheville area, check out the latest edition of Livability: Asheville, NC

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