Visualizing the options for growth

By Ben Brown • Guest Columnist

Think of it as a starter kit for a comprehensive business plan for North Carolina’s seven westernmost counties. 

That’s as good a way as any to understand the mission of the Opportunity Initiative for Southwestern North Carolina — Opt-In, for short. It’s a 15-month process overseen by the Southwestern Commission Council of Governments representing the seven far western counties and set to wrap by the end of May.


A second round of community workshops for each of the counties and in the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) is now underway. Which makes it more important than ever that the hopes and concerns of folks who live and work in these counties and towns are represented in the final steps towards a draft regional vision to help inform decision-making for the next couple decades.

There’s a schedule of upcoming meetings with this article, along with a link to the Opt-In website that explains the project’s background and progress so far.

The reason the business plan comparison works is that much of the Opt-In research and discussions are about, first of all, figuring out what sorts of businesses the mountain region is in, then exploring who our customers are and what they value. And like any good business plan, it’s not just about revenues; it’s also about costs and how to control them, so that we end up creating more wealth than we spend getting it.

It’s a regional visioning process, as opposed to a county-by-county or town-by-town effort. That’s because so much of what we rely upon for healthy, prosperous communities doesn’t have much to do with where we draw lines on maps. Mountains and rivers don’t care about borders. And the man-made projects we undertake, like building roads and managing watersheds, are multijurisdictional. The fact is, much of the investment we need to achieve and maintain our quality of life, whether we’re talking tourist dollars or government infrastructure funding, depends on how we cooperate as a region. 

The name we picked for the process has another important implication. Applying the Vision to policy-making is optional. Counties and towns can decide whether they want to opt for implementing the ideas – or not. But we’ve designed the process to keep business, political and non-profit leaders not only aware, but involved in every phase of the project. So opting in at the end should be an easy decision.

Here’s where we are now: in the first round of workshops last fall, we confirmed broad regional goals identified in interviews and group meetings. This time around, we’re testing “what if” scenarios against the goals, probing the appetite for changes in the way jurisdictions organize themselves to guide future growth. If it’s likely we can come closer to achieving some of our goals by being more aggressive in the way we make investment, management and regulatory decisions, are those choices ones we want to make? Among all the options, which do we prefer?

Come to the workshop in your area. Join your neighbors. Take part in the discussion. 

(Ben Brown is the Opt-In communications director and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 828.508.5002.) 


Opt-In Meeting Schedule

In all locations, meetings start at 5:30 p.m. for Open House. Presentation and discussion begins at 6 p.m.

Swain County

Monday, Feb. 17

Swain County Technology and Training Center

45 East Ridge Road

Bryson City

Jackson County

Thursday, Feb. 20

Smoky Mountain High School

100 Smoky Mountain Drive


Haywood County

Thursday, Feb. 27

Tuscola High School

564 Tuscola School Road


More info:

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