First a disclaimer: I’m on the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce Board (since June) and am also a member of the Haywood County Economic Development Council, which is an advisory board. I’ve voted twice to approve this decision.
The way the process is set up in Haywood right now, it’s the chamber executive director and the economic development council’s executive director who do the tough job of trying to boost Haywood’s economy, with the chamber board having to vote on many of the decisions and the economic development council discussing and offering advice and even voting, but not having any real authority. That was the way things were re-structured in 2014.
And of course county commissioners, who fund economic development to the tune of $280,000 annually, are also kept in the loop.
Last week it was announced that the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce would ink a deal with the Asheville Chamber to promote Haywood to businesses looking to locate to this area. At the most basic level, this decision came down to numbers and money. Asheville’s economic development office has seven employees. Haywood has one. They have a budget of several million dollars. They have a multitude of resources, just what one would expect of a popular city that’s getting lots of inquiries.
So adding Haywood’s list of sites and amenities to their own won’t be that difficult. In fact, from all we’ve been told the Asheville folks are excited about having more arrows in their quiver. It’s getting crowded over there.
We are both mountain towns, albeit Asheville’s position as the epicenter of the region is solidly in place. Buncombe is expected to have a population of 270,935 by 2020, while Haywood is projected to be at 63,791. Buncombe’s growth rate from 2010 to 2020 is expected to be 13.7 percent, while Haywood will clock in at 8.1 percent. Like the rest of the state and the rest of the country, rural Haywood County is not performing as well economically as our urban neighbor just a few miles to the east.
But if companies or businesses are looking for the mountain lifestyle and think Asheville may be a good fit, there’s a good chance Waynesville or Canton may also be a good fit. Truth is we have amenities Asheville doesn’t — closer proximity to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Cherokee and Harrah’s, much less traffic, lower real estate prices, and empty downtown storefronts begging for investment that are likely cheaper than what’s available in Buncombe County.
Some fear we may not get much help from this partnership because Asheville folks will still try to sell their town and just take our marketing money to the bank. But those who are still working out the fine points of this deal are confident that won’t happen.
Economic development experts around the country are touting regionalism. Haywood already benefits from being next door to Asheville. Estimates are that 40 percent of the jobs in Buncombe County are held by people who live outside the county, primarily Henderson, Haywood and Madison counties (which form the Metropolitan Statistical Area). I can count dozens of people I know who live in Haywood and work at Mission Hospital, the VA Hospital, UNCA, the public school systems, Asheville-Buncombe Community College, the town or county, the large industries and the hundreds of small businesses across the county line.
By the same token, when the region around Asheville grows, those people in the surrounding counties head to the big city for entertainment, restaurants, to make large purchases and more. If businesses locate and thrive in Haywood County, Asheville and Buncombe County still benefit. That status as a bedroom community that is home to smaller businesses has its advantages. People in economic development understand that relationship.
And here’s benefit of this partnership that hasn’t gotten much attention. Haywood’s economic development director will now be able to concentrate on helping existing entrepreneurs and recruiting others. The Asheville team will be getting in front of potential big companies so we can re-focus local efforts toward small businesses and smaller manufacturers.
Remember the lonely Maytag repairman, the guy who had a quality product but whose phone never rang? Well, I’m not saying Haywood’s phone never rings, but it’s achingly simple to see that the commercial growth in our neighbor to the east is rocketing forward. It’s time we jump on and ride that beast for all we can.