WNC vitality index provides data-driven look at region

A one-of-a-kind database that encompasses virtually every aspect of life in Western North Carolina, from ecology to economics, is now available to decision makers, business leaders and the public. 

The Mountain Resources Commission, a group formed in 2009 to study environmental and economic issues facing WNC, recently unveiled the vitality index. 

The new par? Decline in golfing persists in post-recession world

As people’s discretionary spending remains low nationwide, golf courses in Haywood County are trying to drive their way out of a bunker with price cuts and special offers aimed at drawing in atypical players.

Golf courses in the Haywood County are, at the very least, trying to stay on par with past numbers — be it the number of rounds played or total revenue earned.

“It’s a luxury,” said Jay Manner, the general manager at Maggie Valley Club & Resort. “We understand that golf is important to a lot of people, but it isn’t shelter or food.”

To help golfers save, the club is waving its initiation fee for anyone who signs an 18-month membership commitment.

The decline in golf has mostly taken its toll among casual, or “fringe” golfers, said Duane Paige, the general manager of Laurel Ridge Country Club.

Core golfers, a term Paige uses for those who play two, three or even four rounds a week, have been less likely to let up on their game in the recession.

But fringe golfers, those who played once or twice a month, have backed off, perhaps only playing every other month now, Paige said. And those who used to play very other month might now play just twice a year — or not at all.

Manner said the Maggie Club is “cautiously optimistic” about its numbers this year, particularly given the unseasonably warm winter. The course was up 1,000 rounds of golf in April compared to the prior year.

However, more rounds does not automatically translate to more money coming in. Several years ago, a round at the Maggie Valley Club was around $90. Today, its about $60. The club also moved its twilight hours up. Golfers with tee times after 2 or 3 p.m. would typically pay discounted rates because of the late start. Now that rate has been extended to those who tee off after 1 p.m.

The Waynesville Inn is no different, offering limited time play passes that are cheaper than a full-fledged membership, though without some of the perks.

The passes are “for that golfer that wants to play golf but doesn’t want to tie up money in a membership,” said Tom Halterman, general manager at Waynesville Inn Golf Resort & Spa. “We have gained a great deal of the local play” as a result, he said.

Halterman said that he thinks younger generations are put-off by the lifestyle a golf club membership portrays.

“Today’s generation they are not interested in that type of thing,” Halterman said. “Membership tends to scream stuffy.”

Courses that were once almost entirely private have opened up their fairways to outside play as a way top counter the decline.

“If we can bring in some amount of outside play that helps supplement our income,” said Paige. Laurel Ridge is now among those semi-private courses that accept outside play.

“We are always looking to help people enjoy our golf course because if they do we hope they become a member one day,” Paige said.

 

Changing demographics

Golf course managers with a long view of their sport are perhaps most troubled by the declining number of younger golfers there to replace their aging core clientele.

Paige said the decline in play among younger golfers isn’t due solely to the economy. Men, who still account for the majority of golfers, typically spend more time with their families on the weekend. They are more likely to be involved in activities with their children and have household responsibilities than men in previous generations.

That’s led Paige to look for ways to get the whole family out to the course, including wives and children. Laurel Ridge offers junior golf camp in the summer, as well as special Tee-It-Forward rounds where the tee box is moved closer on the fairway to make the course doable for youth.

Maggie Valley Club is trying to get kids into the sport by offering junior golf lessons for all ages. That way, when the kids are learning to swing and putt, the parents can enjoy the golf course themselves or the club’s other amenities. Otherwise, people just don’t have the time to devote to golf nowadays as they did in the past.

“They’ve got kids, families,” Manner said. “They don’t have 4 to 4.5 hours.”

Likewise, golf courses are not capturing as much of the baby boomer generation as they expected, given that many people are being forced to work well past retirement age.

In hindsight, the proliferation of golf courses developments aimed at retirees and second-home buyers during the real estate heyday of the early 2000s was perhaps overly optimistic, Paige said.

“We were predicting continued prosperity that if you built it, they would come,” Paige said of the region’s outlook. “So we overbuilt. We have a little bit more supply than we have demand.”

Staff Writer Becky Johnson contributed to this story

GroWNC inspires neighboring counties to think like a region

Haywood is banding together with Transylvania, Buncombe, Henderson and Madison counties under a project titled GroWNC, designed to get the region thinking collectively about ways to develop the economy with a focus on sustainability.

GroWNC is currently holding meetings in all five counties to gain feedback on the goals and gather information about their residents, including one planned in Haywood County this week. Participants are being asked everything from what people love most about Western North Carolina to individual demographics to opinions about the program.

“It is trying to take a long-term vision of the area and see what our common issues are,” said Waynesville’s Assistant Town Manager Alison Melnikova. “It’s basically everything people like about Western North Carolina and preserving it.”

The group will focus on seven core areas: jobs and economic development; housing; natural resources; cultural resources; energy; land use; transportation; and health and wellness.

The consortium is led by an 18-member committee, which is responsible for prioritizing work activities, participating in the selection of consultants and making recommendations to guide the project. Sub-committees have been formed to address the seven specific areas.

Each of the committees has drafted a list of goals that it hopes to work toward that will promote growth and more inter-connectivity between the counties, rather than each county taking its own path.

“GroWNC better conveys our goal of growing together as a region,” said Carrie Runser-Turner, senior planner with Land-of-Sky Regional Council, a multi-county local government planning and development organization. “Really what we are trying to do is look at the choices we make in these areas (and) how they are inter-related.”

Among the goals are creating effective job training programs; exploring alternative energy options; increasing transportation choices; promoting community health resources such as gym class in schools and physical activity programs; building mixed use neighborhoods with a “sense of place;” and encouraging the development of affordable housing, among others.

The meetings being held throughout the project region are informal, allowing people to move from table to table as they wish and skip over areas that they don’t have an particular interest in. Door prizes will also be given away at the meetings.

“The participants get to shape their experience with this meeting,” Melnikova said.

A U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant was awarded to the counties for the project through the Land-of-Sky.

 

Want to participate?

Haywood Community College will host an informational and feedback meeting from 4-7 p.m. on May 16 in the Charles Beall Auditorium. If you cannot attend the meeting at HCC, check out www.gro-wnc.org for other upcoming meetings and more information about GroWNC.

Appalachian born and bred: Downtown Waynesville, Haywood Tourism both launch locally made campaigns

The Jackson County farmers market had three or four vendors who regularly showed up each week to sell their homegrown goods in 2001.

For the most part, the growers would sit around, chew the fat and trade produce.

“It was kind of our farmer’s morning out,” said Cathy Arps, who runs Vegenui Garden with her husband Ron.

The vendors would make maybe a few sales during the day. However, mostly, people would drive-by the market, roll down their car windows and glance at the offerings before zipping off.

“It was very difficult,” Arps said. But, “The farmers of the farmers market hung on.”

Now, about a decade later, the number of vendors has more than septupled and the amount of customers has grown even more.

The Jackson County market is not an anomaly. The number of vendors at the Waynesville farmers market went from fewer than a dozen in 2008 to now more than 60, with crowds perusing all their options. Beeswax candles, goat’s milk soap, sauces and rubs, cheese and round out the traditional baskets and tables of produce.

“There is a tremendous movement underfoot to save your local farmers,” said Carol James, former president with the Haywood Historic Farmers Market.

Both markets are representative of a nationwide trend that spread during the last several years. Considerably more people are buying local.

“The farmers market is sort of a snapshot of the radical change,” Arps said.

The desire to buy local goes beyond food. People are growing tired of the mass-produced, dime-a-dozen riffraff made overseas that line the shelves of retail giants. Locally made is a hip alternative.

Looking to capitalize on the movement, Haywood County and the downtown Waynesville business district are finding ways to promote locally produced merchandise that is unique to the area as well as items made within the U.S. — which seem difficult to find when perusing the tags at any area department store.

Taking a cue from the Good Morning, America series “Made in America,” Buffy Phillips, executive director of the Waynesville Downtown Association, decided to find out what businesses in Waynesville’s downtown sell items crafted in Western North Carolina and in the U.S.

“I just thought it was time we came together and promoted it,” Phillips said. “I find that customers are asking. They want to know what is made in the USA and locally.”

Phillips has been compiling a list of downtown businesses with U.S. and locally made wares. Although American-made clothes are still difficult to find, people can find WNC-made jewelry at the Jeweler’s Workbench or buy dog treats at the Smoky Mountain Dog Bakery. High Country Home sells furniture and cabinets constructed in Waynesville and hardwood floors from Franklin. And, the local brews are taking off with Headwaters Brewing Company, Frog Level Brewery and soon at the Tipping Point. With the exception of a few items, most food necessities can be found around town — from the smoked tomato jam at Sunburst Trout Market to barbecue sauces to jams and salsa.

Phillips is distributing stacks of stickers and signs to businesses along the downtown Main Street strip that each can used to advertise whether they sell products made in the U.S.

Twigs and Leaves Art Gallery is already one step ahead of the curve with a map displayed in its window, showing where in the U.S. each of its products hails from — all but a handful are from within WNC.

“I would love to think that everybody on the street would have something made in North Carolina,” Phillips said.

And, in a couple of months, the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority will launch its own similar campaign “Homegrown in Haywood.” The logo of the advertising initiative is a needle inside of a fish, inside of a duclimer, inside of an artist’s palette, inside of an apple.

Visitors want to experience the local culture, buy things that are specific to the area and eat what the locals eat, said Lynn Collins, executive director of the Haywood TDA. The marketing campaign helps point people in the right direction and also advertise the things that make the county different.

Part of the movement in Western North Carolina is also about preserving Appalachian culture, which is why the dulcimer — a locally significant instrument — is included in the tourism agency’s logo.

In addition to food and art, there are blacksmiths who makes tools, woodworkers who build tables, soap makers, bookbinders, people who manufacture guns — all too numerous to count.

“Locavesting” catching on

People aren’t just purchasing more items grown, constructed and masterminded in Western North Carolina, but they are willing to invest in local ventures.

For example, when Annie’s Naturally Bakery closed late this year, 10 area residents pooled their money to help the popular Sylva joint reopen.

“I think this is a concept that makes a lot of sense to a lot of people,” said Frank Lockwood, an assistant professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Western North Carolina University. “I think we will find more and more examples of this locavesting as we figure out how to do it.”

Along the same vein, some area growers have begun selling season-long memberships to their farm’s bounty, guaranteeing an individual a portion of the crops that are harvested each week.

“It is basically like people buying a subscription to your product,” Arps said.

Although the products are slightly pricier than their grocery store counterparts, people are willing to pay that little extra for natural products without all the additives, preservatives and extra unnecessary stuff.

Jackson resident and farmer Jackie Hooper hasn’t heard any complaints about her reduced sugar apple butter-like spread. In fact, she said, less is what more people are looking for.

“People don’t seem to mind that there isn’t more sugar,” said Hooper, who also sells chicken, quail and rabbit, among other items. “They are actually glad because sugar is one of the things they are actually trying to cut down on.”

That sentiment hits on a big reason why people want to buy straight from the farmer rather than the grocery store. People are more health conscious compared to the past.

“They are really reading package labels,” said Hooper, of Shared Blessings Farm in Cullowhee. “They no longer want to buy it ready-made in a grocery store.”

In many cases, the product is also tastier, since it had a shorter distance to travel before it ended up on someone’s plate.

Robin Smith, of Lenoir’s Devon in Canton, is one of several cattle farmers in Haywood County whose focus is to deliver fresher, higher quality beef without a middleman.

“We were just really interested in selling a better product than the grocery stores had,” Smith said. “(The beef) doesn’t go from a big plant and have additives in it.”

In places like Western North Carolina, the movement only seems natural given the vast tracts of open land. There have always been farmers in the area, but after WWII, fewer Americans grew their own food or received produce from a nearby farm. And now, the nation is moving back toward its roots.

“There are now people that are willing to grow the products and make it available,” Lockwood said. “In the neck of the woods we live in … it’s something that makes a lot of sense.”

The dour economy has also played a role in national shift in mentality as people lost their jobs and saw manufacturing facilities move overseas, making buyers more conscious of where their purchases come from.

“I guess now with a loss of businesses and employees, we don’t want to lose anymore,” Phillips said.

Dusting the mothballs off Sylva’s ‘ghostel’

The shell of a vacant four-story hotel sitting partially finished on Sylva’s main drag for three years is finally going somewhere.

Developers from Greensboro bought the vacant hotel along N.C. 107 for $850,000 and are promising to pump an additional $2 million into completing the project.

The hotel was partially constructed beginning in 2008 and has widely been considered an eyesore. It was supposed to become a Clarion Inn, but the original developers TJ Investments, the father and son team Thomas and John Dowden of Cashiers, went into bankruptcy. Alpharetta Community Bank of Georgia, which foreclosed after the men failed to payoff a $5-million loan, owned the hotel. The newly formed Sylva Hotel Group recently bought the property for $850,000.

Developer Stephen Austin said he and his two partners in the project have settled on a national hotel chain to brand the 78-room hotel, which includes a convention room and space for a restaurant, but added that they aren’t ready to disclose which one.

He said the bargain-basement purchase price made the deal a good venture.

“Sylva is not an extremely deep hotel market,” he said. “We’re going to do our very best to have a hotel that is worthy of our business.”

Austin said that the men’s pre-purchase market studies indicated that Sylva hotel occupancy rates run at about 50 percent, lower than the national average of more than 60 percent. Even after figuring that higher vacancy rate into the business plan, Austin said the getting-in price made it a sound investment.

“If you are going to build a new hotel, it helps to get in at a good price,” he said. “We’ll have a total of about $3 million in the project. We’re also excited to be able to take a piece of property and produce something of value, create an asset for the community.”

Austin said he and his partners are hoping to start construction soon and open the new hotel this year.

Town Commissioner Harold Hensley, who lives near the hotel, said he is excited that it sold and is going to be finished and used.

Five years ago, the town OK’d an exemption to its building height restrictions, allowing the proposed Clarion Inn to have four stories instead of three. The developers at the time claimed they needed a 75-foot maximum height instead of just 45 feet as mandated by town regulations.

Hensley said he believed the purchase was indicative that the local economy is starting to shake off the recessionary blues.

“I don’t know much about the details, but to me, it’s excellent news that this can move forward and progress,” Hensley said.

Paige Roberson, assistant to the town manager and director of the town’s Main Street program, echoed Hensley’s optimism. She said that at least two other vacant stores in town have seen movement recently. Cope’s Superette, a downtown newsstand that closed in December, is being reopened as an antique store; the crematorium of Moody’s Funeral Home is being repurposed as a doctor’s office.

Report: Blue Ridge Parkway adds up to jobs, money

A new National Park Service report shows that more than 14.5 million visitors spent $299 million along the Blue Ridge Parkway and in surrounding communities in 2010. That spending supported more than 4,008 jobs.

Under the same economic model, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park claims its 9 million visitors spent over $818 million in the gateway communities surrounding the Park, with 11,367 local jobs were supported by Park visitor spending.

"The people and the business owners in communities near national parks have always known their economic value," said Parkway Superintendent Phil Francis. "The Blue Ridge Parkway is clean, green fuel for the engine that drives our local economy."

The figures are included in an overall total of $12 billion spent by 281 million visitors in 394 national parks and nearby communities, which are reported in an annual, peer-reviewed, visitor spending analysis conducted by a Michigan State University professor for the National Park Service.

Most of the spending and jobs is related to lodging, food, and beverage service (52 percent) followed by other retail (29 percent); entertainment and amusements (10 percent); gas and local transportation (7 percent); and groceries (2 percent).

To download the report visit www.nature.nps.gov/socialscience/products.cfm#MGM and click on Economic Benefits to Local Communities from National Park Visitation and Payroll, 2010.

Desperate for work, WNC residents flock to regional jobs fair

People once again lined up at the Biltmore Square Mall in Asheville last week, but this time they weren't waiting for hours to see Santa Claus. Instead, they were looking for a belated Christmas gift — a job.

The mall was the site of the largest job fair in the mountains, boasting more than 1,200 open positions. About 2,000 people showed up for the event, most of them members of the 10 percent of unemployed residents of North Carolina.

An older gentleman in a grey three-piece suit looked overwhelmed as he surveyed the seemingly never-ending rows of employers and possible employees that filled a vast majority of the mall.

Barbara Darby, who helped run the event put on by the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Coalition, said she was not surprised by the turnout.

SEE ALSO: Stuck in a rut: Too few jobs coming on line 

"We are well aware of the large numbers looking for work," said Darby, a member of the Mountain Area Workforce Development Board.

People traveled from all around Western North Carolina — Haywood, Jackson, Macon, Swain, Yancey, Madison, Polk — in search of a job or a better opportunity.

"There are really no county lines when it comes to finding jobs," said Mark Clasby, executive director of Haywood County's Economic Development Commission. "People will really commute where the jobs are."

About 15 percent of Haywood County residents travel outside the county to work, Clasby said, and at least 3,000 people commute into Haywood County for work.

The dismal job market has forced some unemployed individuals to move.

During the past year, Tonya Turner, 40, packed up her belongings and moved from Haywood County to a place in Mars Hill with her son. She is looking for "a new start," she said.

Turner has been jobless for a year and has applied for more than 20 jobs during that time. She is looking for a position as a receptionist or in medical billing and has experience as an administrative employee.


The Potential Hires

While many participants put a face and a name on WNC's more than 8 percent unemployment rate, a number of people with current jobs attended the fair looking for better benefits or for a second or third job to help pay their bills. Some proactively applied for positions, knowing they might soon receive a pink slip.

"It's time to find me something better," said Josh Grooms, a 23-year-old Canton resident.

Grooms works for a roofing company in Fletcher, near Asheville, but the benefits do not include health insurance — a costly bill to foot on one's own.

He was hopeful, however, that he would find a new job at the fair.

"They have plenty of decent jobs out here," Grooms said.

There was no age, social class or race that predominated the fair. Quickly glancing around, anyone could spot a teenager or young 20-something as well as people well into their 50s and 60s. The dress code ranged from jeans, T-shirts and boots to suits and ties.

Terry Gant — one of the baseball hat, T-shirt and jeans people — said he was looking for "anything."

The Haywood County resident is a former employee of Volvo Construction Equipment.

The Volvo plant in Asheville closed in March 2010 and shifted its operations to some of the company's other manufacturing facilities around the world.

The move left Gant and 227 other people without jobs. Gant, 46, said he hasn't worked since.

"I am just ready to get back to work," he said.

Gant has not been sitting on the sidelines waiting, however. He went back to community college and will soon have his associate's degree in industrial systems technology. The degree, plus his welding and electrical experience, will make Gant much more marketable and increase his chances of getting a job.

Like Gant, Darren and Melinda Sims, also causalities of the Volvo plant closure, decided to return to school. The out-of-work couple from Fairview won't graduate until next year but knowing the trouble they will likely face, wanted to get a head start on the job search. Darren, 41, wants to finds a job in industrial systems, and Melinda, 40, is looking for an administrative position.


A noble effort

On the outskirts of the melee at the mall were applicants such as Ken Childers from the Whittier area in Jackson County, who was filling out packets and reading information collected along the employment trail.

Childers worked at a steel mill for 27 years before starting his own trucking company in 2005 — just two years before the recession began. He was not able to sustain his business as diesel prices skyrocketed up to $4.75 a gallon in 2007.

The National Bureau of Economic Research, a private, nonprofit research group, marked the start of the recession as December 2007. And although the group declared the downturn over as of June 2009, the U.S. is still beset with high unemployment rates and fears of a double-dip recession.

"It's tough out there," said Childers, 55. "You almost have to have two jobs today."

Similar to many fair attendees, Childers is looking for anything he can get. He is even willing to move from his family's 100-year-old farm for a job.

Childers was somewhat pessimistic about the prospect of finding something at the fair, saying there's a "lot of people for them to choose from."


The Employers

Many area businesses are wary of the economy and are only adding one or two jobs at a time.

"I think businesses are very cautious," Clasby said. But, "The economy is slowly improving overall."

With such slow growth, the addition of 35 jobs at Sonoco Plastics in Waynesville is considered a boom. In the past, that number would have been considered low.

"That is kind of a big number all of the sudden," Clasby said. "That's not the norm unfortunately."

Sonoco, which makes plastic trays for frozen food dinners, was among the more than 80 employers at the job fair.

"We are excited to be growing," said Vanessa Crouch, human resources manager at the Waynesville plant. "It's an employer's market right now."

Because the country is still experiencing high rates of unemployment and few companies hiring, employers can be more selective with whom they hire.

Sonoco received 175 applications for seven recently filled positions, Crouch said. The company is hiring only a handful of new employees at a time so as not overload itself with trainees, she said.

Among the open positions are supervisory staff, quality technicians, maintenance personnel and packers.

Amidst the many Asheville area employees at the jobs fair was Mission Health, a healthcare provider with centers throughout WNC, including Angel Medical Center in Franklin.

As of the early afternoon, Gloria Perry, a hiring specialist with Mission Health, said "easily 300" people has already visited their table.

"It breaks your heart sometimes," said Perry, whose husband is actually unemployed. "Everybody's so desperate."

As of Monday, the Mission Hospital website listed 197 available full-time and part-time positions at its various facilities in Western North Carolina — a testament to the health care field as one of the largest and fastest growing sectors of the economy. The medical group's biggest need is certified nursing assistants, Perry said, later adding that she had met many displaced or soon-to-be-certified nursing assistants at the fair.


October 2011 unemployment rates

Haywood County 8.6 percent

Jackson County 8 percent

Macon County 9.6 percent

Swain County 12 percent

Source: N.C. Employment Security Commission. October is the most recent month for which data is available.

Getting ready: Growing number of preppers work to ensure survival in case of societal collapse

At Carolina Readiness Supply in Waynesville you can buy freeze-dried macaroni and cheese by the 20-ounce can and a solar oven in which to warm it.

You can get a woven bracelet in a variety of fashionable colors that converts into handy lengths of cord. Then, in theory at least, you are prepared for almost anything: making simple repairs to your backpack, starting a fire with a friction bow or fashioning a ladder for an elaborate escape from some futureristic prison.

You can buy emergency kits that contain quick-assemble shelter and his-her hygiene necessities, water purification systems, lanterns of every type and variety, and 50 pounds of pinto beans packed for 25 years safe storage. You can outfit an entire library of books on survival subjects, from square-foot gardening to “Bug Out: A Complete Plan for Escaping a Catastrophe.”

At Carolina Readiness Supply, you can —just as the store name promises — get ready. For what exactly? Take your pick: Armageddon, if you choose; or just the winter’s inevitable big, electric-ending and roads-closing snowstorm.

“Will you be ready when the lights go out?” serves as the slogan of Carolina Readiness Supply, owned by Bill and Jan Sterrett. It’s a question that many in the region, and the nation, are now trying to answer.

There is a word in our modern lexicon for the Bill and Jan Sterretts of the world. They are dubbed “preppers.” These are people who have been made uneasy, for a variety of reasons, and who believe they need to prepare for potential huge changes: A terrorist attack, a devastating plague, a national technology failure or, perhaps, biological warfare.

Some preppers store enough food, water and supplies to last a month or two; others have much bigger plans and fears. They want to survive in whatever new reality would follow a societal collapse. They see prepping as an insurance policy of sorts: protection for themselves and their families in the event of major catastrophe — a catastrophe they hope never strikes. But if it does, they plan on being ready.

On the most extreme end, there are people in this region busy building and supplying bunkers. But the problem with bunker-builders, at least for the reporter writing on these topics, is that these are folks who aren’t particularly eager to clue others into their whereabouts and actual identities. After all, if there’s a huge crisis, you don’t exactly want to be the only place in the area identified as bunker-safe and food-ready.

 

Self-reliance is the goal

Bill Sterrett is a familiar figure in Haywood County. He retired in January 2007 as chief deputy for the Haywood County Sheriff’s Department.

Sterrett does not strike an observer as the hysterical type. He speaks only after due consideration, and so softly that, in a conversation, you soon find yourself murmuring questions in return and leaning forward to hear his answers.

Sterrett described himself as a man who has a deep interest in the traditional ways of doing for oneself and one’s family, and of simple living in general.

The economy started derailing not long after Sterrett’s retirement from law enforcement. Sterrett, like many in the U.S., looked to his investments and wondered what best to do. He had considered divesting himself of property, and of buying and working a small farm, but given ever-increasing financial restraints that dream seemed an ever more remote possibility.

“I wanted to learn the old ways, and to be self reliant,” Sterrett said in explanation. “But the economy sometimes dictates what you can and cannot do. I grew concerned about the value of paper money in the bank, and felt that it would be better to convert our cash dollars into commodities.”

That led to the idea of Carolina Readiness Supply. But his wife, Jan, wasn’t exactly an enthusiastic participant in her husband’s plans, at least not initially.

“I’m like, ‘OK, whatever,’” she said. “I told him, ‘Go ahead, do what you want.’”

Then Jan Sterrett read One Second After by Montreat College Professor William R. Forstchen, a book she now sells by the hundreds to others off the bookshelves of Carolina Readiness Supply. This apocalyptic novel, a New York Times bestseller, tells the story of a man struggling to save his family and his small town in Western North Carolina after an electromagnetic pulse sends America into a post-modern version of the Dark Ages.

After that frightening, eye-opening read, Jan Sterrett was ready to get ready, too. For what, she wasn’t exactly sure, but ready Jan Sterrett planned on being. Her husband no longer sounded a solo tune; One Second After resulted in a harmonious husband-wife duet.

“I knew we had to do something,” Jan Sterrett said. “We had to.”

Jan Sterrett, in turn, sent the book to her trauma-surgeon son, who lives in Pheonix, after he asked skeptical questions about his parents’ plans post-Dad’s retirement.

“He called back after reading it and told me, ‘Now I understand,’” Jan Sterrett said, adding that her son and his medical partners are now, too, “getting ready.”

 

‘Preppers’

Troy Leatherwood might not be the exact textbook definition of a prepper, but he’s a fellow with an abiding interest in living off the land. His family did just that for six generations on their property in Jonathan Valley in Haywood County. The 56-year-old licensed contractor has subsequently made a professional living elsewhere, including selling real estate in Balsam Preserve. His brother, John, still farms the family land.

Together, the brothers want to convert part of the family spread into a subdivision for others interested in living off the land — a prepping place, if you will, for preppers.

The Leatherwoods, Troy Leatherwood said, want to form a community of like-minded individuals. People who want to learn the old ways through classes on topics such as blacksmithing, gardening and so on.

Leatherwood’s idea was rooted in observations from the Internet. He noted that a particular survival blog was receiving an amazing amount of weekly “hits,” and that “a lot of the stuff on there was what mountain people grew up with.”

A light-bulb moment, of sorts, occurred.

“We should sell and market what we know,” Troy Leatherwood told his brother, and fill an obvious and growing business niche. Make some money and help some people at the same time, he said.

John Leatherwood was agreeable. The brothers are now using 16 acres of their family’s land, divided into 10 lots. They plan on having irrigated raised beds for gardening, plus other homesteading-oriented amenities. They’ve planted fruit trees, and move-ins can help and learn on the family’s currently operating, neighboring farm, Troy Leatherwood said.

The Leatherwoods plan to work on the property over the winter. They are accepting applications now, however.

Troy Leatherwood emphasizes that he isn’t a doomsayer. But he believes even harder times could come to the U.S., and that it would be foolhardy for people not to prepare, not to be ready.

“I call it being smart enough to realize that there are real dangers out there,” he said, adding that more and more technology means an ever-increasing risk of dangers.

 

Demand is huge

The demand for goods sold at Carolina Readiness Supply seems to be increasing. Jan and Bill Sterrett moved recently from a previous location on Depot Street because they outgrew the space.

From the looks of it, they might soon outgrow the floor space of this newer store, too. The Sterretts would like to add a line of woodstoves to their offerings, and possibly other readiness supplies as well.

Jan Sterrett said that to her knowledge, there’s not another store in the Southeast quite like Carolina Readiness Supply. And the growing customer base seems to confirm that — a guestbook used to build an email network for the store indicates people coming to shop here are from across the region. But they also hail from other neighboring states: Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia.

The Sterretts are clearly enjoying their new line of work. Bill Sterrett said they are learning, too, through researching new products and determining how best to use them. It isn’t exactly the small farm he once dreamed of working, but Carolina Readiness Supply, Bill Sterrett said, is fulfilling a dream that he never quite before knew existed.

 

What it takes to prep for disaster

Here’s how much food an average family of four would need to last a year.

Wheat    175 lbs

Flour    20 lbs

Quinoa    30 lbs

Rolled Oats    50 lbs

White Rice    80 lbs

Pearled Barley    5 lbs

Spaghetti or Macaroni    40 lbs

Dry Beans    45 lbs

Dry Soy Beans    2 lbs

Dry Split Peas    2 lbs

Dry Lentils    2 lbs

Dry Soup Mix    7 lbs

Peanut Butter    1 qt

Almond Butter    1 qt

Nonfat Dry Milk    14 lbs

Granulated Sugar    40 lbs

Molasses    1 lb

Honey    3 lbs

Beef Gelatin    1 lb

Salt    8 lbs

Dry Yeast    0.5 lbs

Source: Good Earth Health Food store

Haywood construction industry fell 34 percent in recession

During the past decade, Haywood County’s economy has seen some ups — but mostly downs.

A presentation given at the recent Haywood County Economic Development Commission meeting offers a glimpse of how the county fared before and during the recession. The decade worth of numbers presented shows drastic declines in employment and growth but little or no rebound since.

Research economist Tom Tveidt, of SYNEVA Economics in Asheville, was commissioned to do an economic trends study for Old Town Bank based in Waynesville. The study is now being shared with the community.

Sectors impacted the most by the recession were construction, manufacturing and wholesale trade. The number of construction jobs declined 34 percent during the recession, and demand for second-homes in the mountains withered. Wholesale trade and manufacturing slid by 37 percent and 13 percent, respectively.

On the bright side, manufacturing and wholesale industries have begun growing once again though have yet to bounce back completely.

Total employment in the county tumbled from almost 27,000 jobs in 2008 to about 24,850 in 2009. Employment numbers have continued to fluctuate during the past couple year but never reached more than 25,600 jobs.

The sustained decline in job opportunities may have affected Haywood County’s population numbers as well.

“That explains the people leaving,” said Kevin Ensley, a member of the Economic Development Commission after seeing the decline in jobs. Ensley is also a Haywood County Commissioner.

Haywood County residents have a little extra room compared to a couple years ago.

Its population saw a decline of a little more than 200 people in 2010, bucking an almost two decade long trend of population increases. Last year’s drop in population was the county’s first decline since 1990.

Despite the recent drop, Haywood County’s population grew by 4,802 people during the first decade of this century, and the county is ranked 55th in the state for growth.

County residents are also getting older though.

As a popular location for retirees and second homebuyers, Haywood County has historically had an aging demographic. But, in 2010, the majority of resident were reportedly in their 50s or 60s, compared to just 10 years ago when most were in their 40s and 50s.

County governments receive state and federal funding based on their projected economic and population growth. The predictions are based on past growth, such as the number of building permits issued.

Prior to 2008, the county issued an average of 32 building permits each month. That number dropped to 13 after 2008.

Haywood County has benefited monetarily from estimated growth projections in the past.

“We get over ranked” and receive additional money because the number of second homebuyers who either purchase or build homes in the county, Waynesville Mayor Gavin Brown said.

 

2000-2010 Population

Increased 4,802 or 8.6%

2010 population decreased 217

First decline since 1990

Total employment from 2008 to 2009

Almost 27,000 down to 24,850

Average building permits per-month

Pre 2008: 32; Post 2008: 13

Twenty years and counting: Imperial renovations, perhaps, finally coming to a close

It’s anybody’s guess when the Imperial Hotel in Canton will open.

The deadline for finishing renovations to the hotel, owned by outgoing Canton Mayor Pat Smathers, has continually been pushed back. The initial opening date in May turned into July, then August, with the latest target now sometime in December.

“There is just very little left to do,” said Smathers, who expects to finish renovating the hotel by the first or second week in December. “It’s just taken time, but it’s an old building.”

The renovations have been progressing in fits and starts during the past decade. Piles of bricks and other tell-tale signs of construction have been a mainstay in the yard of the downtown property for years now.

This time, however, completion really is just around the corner. If Smathers doesn’t create 15 jobs in the renovated hotel by this time next year, he will have to repay a $90,000 state grant for the project from the N.C. Rural Center.

Smathers himself will only create one of the required 15 jobs directly, however. An independent restaurant leasing space from Smathers inside the hotel will create the other 14 jobs required under the grant.

Smathers must repay a portion of the grant for each job not created.

Plans for a restaurant inside the hotel have taken a turn last week, however, with one restaurateur stepping back and another stepping in. Originally, Greg Petty, owner of the Canton Lunch Box, was going to open a restaurant in the Imperial Hotel. He expected to open this summer and even closed his other restaurant to focus his efforts on the new location.

“We closed our Canton Lunch Box in anticipation of getting this place opening on Aug. 1,” Petty said. That’s after previously touting a June opening.

Petty said the prolonged renovations were not the main reason he opted out of the Imperial locale. He said he was still planning to open the restaurant when he was approached by Sid Truesdale, who wanted to buy him out.

Truesdale said he was looking for an opportunity locally.

The goal for opening a restaurant in the hotel is New Year’s Eve, said Truesdale, calling the timeline “pretty aggressive.”

The restaurant, called Sid’s on Main, will offer “a little bit of everything,” such as steak and soups, Truesdale said.

The renovation project was about 80 percent complete in June, according to a progress report submitted to the Rural Center as a requirement of the grant. The main items remaining were painting the interior and installing a sprinkler system, bathroom fixtures, HVAC units and lighting fixtures, according to the report.

Now, the sprinkler system has been installed, as well as the light fixtures. However, workers are still inspecting the hotel’s pipes and finishing several outdoor decks or walkways, among other things.

Smathers purchased the property in 1983 with several others. During the next 15 years or so, he bought out his partners and began renovating the historic building.

The mayor said he did not know “off the top of my head” how much he has spent on the project during the last decade. However, he said the final stages of the project should cost about $180,000.

Smathers, through the Haywood County government, has obtained a two-part grant from the N.C. Rural Center to renovate the Imperial Hotel. The center awarded Smathers a $25,000 pre-development grant for architectural and engineering plans and a $90,000 grant for construction.

Smathers had to match the grant with an equal level of spending. As of Nov. 10, the remaining grant funds totaled about $4,000.

To meet the terms of the grants, the hotel must create 15 new jobs — 14 in the restaurant and one in the hotel — before November 2012 or repay part of the grant.

Canton residents and business owners said the hotel will have a positive impact on the community but are wondering how much longer they will have to wait.

“Anything that brings people downtown will help businesses,” said Julie Spivey, an area resident. “It’s taking longer than anyone expected,” she added.

Charles Rathbone, owner of Sign World WNC, said he would like to see the hotel and restaurant open for the upcoming holiday season.

“There is a lot of anticipation waiting for the opening day,” Rathbone said.

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