The changing face of Haywood County: in the middle of everythingWritten by Colby Dunn
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For Darcy and Kevin Sisson, living in Waynesville makes perfect sense.
She works in manufacturing in Asheville, his employer is Swain County’s Nantahala Outdoor Center. Waynesville offers the couple a central location, a town large enough to have an active civic and social life of its own, and quality schools for their kids. Throw in lower tax rates than one finds in Buncombe County, and you have the ideal locale for such a family.
The couple and their three children represent a growing segment of the population in Haywood County, according to Mayor Gavin Brown and Mark Clasby, Haywood County’s economic development director. Haywood County is, more and more, becoming a bedroom community.
Last month, Brown and Clasby pinpointed the change during a meeting of the county’s Economic Development Commission. And in doing so, additionally pitched the idea that “bedroom community” should no longer carry the stigma the words once did.
Commute becomes part of day
“To be honest with you, it’s worked out better than I thought,” said Darcy Sisson, noting that she’s started using the commute time to make calls for work or catch up with friends. “They always know between five and six, I’m usually in the car,” she said.
Sisson emphasized that she and her husband might work elsewhere, but Waynesville is home. And for them, that doesn’t just mean the place where you lay your head at night.
“We try to be involved in the community,” Sisson said. “We have our friends there, we belong to the Haywood Fitness Center and things like that, we do a lot of stuff downtown. That’s really where our life is.”
According to statistics compiled by the Employment Security Commission, three quarters of Haywood County residents commute outside the county to work. This doesn’t exactly classify the whole of Haywood County as a textbook bedroom community, but with three quarters of residents working elsewhere, it does make the county into at least a partial bedroom community. If true, this means Haywood County faces different challenges than the county has faced before.
Brown sees it less in terms of sheer statistics, and more as a social descriptor of the community’s changing face.
“It’s not a number so much as a description of what your community is,” said Brown. “It’s just more a reflection of the way our economy has changed in the world and in the United States in general. Some people would see it as bad, I know. And they do. And there’s logic to that.”
But he sees this as an opportunity to engage people who have, for whatever reason, chosen to live in Haywood County, even though their work is elsewhere. Doesn’t that make them prime candidates for a larger degree of community involvement and devotion, the fact that they’ve chosen to call the county home?
Where the action happens
Haywood County is centrally located, right in the heart of big employers in Cherokee, Sylva and Asheville. So if people choose to live here, the challenge lies in getting them to engage in the community, have a stake that will keep them there, even if their out-of-county job changes.
“It’s the stability factor that’s important to me,” Brown said. “The last thing you want is some generic community that people are moving in and out of all the time.”
The key, he said, is to provide services and quality-of-life options that entice people to come and stay because they love the community, not because they work in it.
So things such as local art groups, quality health care facilities and better options for fitness, dining and civic life are all an important part of getting commuters to put down roots.
“If we provide those kinds of things, then people choose to not make their job the primary thing in their life,” Brown said.