The Asheville Citizen-Times has written eloquently about the needs and the responsibility this state has to be a good steward of those natural resources. The recent success at Chimney Rock is an example of what can be achieved with the necessary financial support. As taxpayers, we should all be proud to have played a part in making that happen for this generation and those that follow.
Unfortunately, one aspect of the Land for Tomorrow proposal hasn’t gotten quite the attention as others. It is called Landing Jobs. A goal of this program is to help small North Carolina communities organize, using the natural resources around them to revitalize, diversify and create new economies based on sustainable use of natural land, water resources, working forests, historic buildings, and downtowns including cultural and artistic assets.
At HandMade in America, Landing Jobs is a familiar idea. From our beginnings over 12 years ago, a major goal has been to establish a cultural place-based economy that is so dependant on place it cannot be outsourced or technically “clicked away.” It takes time. It takes training. It takes financial resources. But it has paid off many times over. HandMade’s Craft and Agri-Trails guidebooks have established a different type of tourism — one that was determined and established by community rather than outside developers. Use of the guidebooks has resulted in a 23 percent increase in income for craft studio participants and shops and galleries. In addition, this focus on the region’s culture of craft, music, agriculture and Cherokee traditions resulted in the Congressional designation of Western North Carolina as the Blue Ridge Heritage Area. Landing Jobs has some of the same possibilities with the inclusion and development of eco and adventure-based tourism that are all dependent on place and its natural resources.
But Landing Jobs offers other opportunities — initiatives in which entire communities utilize their assets and direct their future, rather than being overwhelmed. That doesn’t happen overnight, but in HandMade in America’s Small Town Revitalization program we have seen it work. Since 1997, a dozen small towns, often without a town manager, have created greenways, creek walks, parks, restored courthouses, established rural historic districts, renovated 170 buildings, restored 144 facades, added 203 new businesses and secured $36 million dollars in public and private investments — all directed by local citizens.
By working with the people in this area we also know that there are places right on the edge of moving forward that just need the catalyst that Landing Jobs can provide. For example, Haywood Community College is partnering with the Wisconsin Forest Product Research Lab to design and build “The Sustainable House.” Their focus will be to develop alternative uses for timber products, provide a learning laboratory for horticultural students in landscape design and exhibit home furnishings made by the college’s professional craft program. This project can offer new markets for local small woodlot owners, landscapers and the building trades.
Or, perhaps a small rural landfill can become the site for innovation, education and jobs. Witness Energy Xchange in Yancey County and the Green Energy Park in Jackson County. Both sites have studio business incubators for ceramics, glass and metal as well as greenhouse operations and a bio-diesel fuel company — all powered by the methane from the closed landfills. Currently three other landfills in the region are being considered as potential education/business locations that will use methane as a power source.
For the long-term health of the community there are additional paths to follow to the future. Landing Jobs is a path to an economy based on the character of the people within a community, rather than one imposed on them. For these reasons and others, when the General Assembly gets down to deciding which funds go where, Landing Jobs needs to be part of the mix.
Editor’s note: Becky Anderson has 30 years experience in economic and community development work in Western North Carolina: 20 years in community and economic development and 12 years in craft-focused community development. As founder and Executive Director of HandMade In America she coordinates 20+ major projects involving 3,500 citizens and over 20 partnerships with local, regional and state organizations and institutions; serves as a consultant for heritage and cultural tourism and economic development projects related to arts and crafts.