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Change is coming, and things will change

Change is coming, and things will change

What happens when the those with the most chips in the game only have a partial stake in it?

In other words, what does a community lose when most of the very large businesses are owned by absentee or corporate entities whose main goal is make money but have little interest in making that place a better place to live?

That question came up recently while I was having lunch with the executive director of a pretty large local tourism-related business. In Haywood County, we looked back over what has happened in the past 30 years: the hospitals (in the entire region) no longer local, community-owned businesses, Waynesville Country Club no longer locally owned, Pactiv Evergreen (before its closing) just a part of a huge multi-national corporation. And then of course there’s the growing number of chain or corporate owned retail, large apartment complexes and accommodations businesses.

I’m not suggesting there’s anything inherently sinister in corporate ownership. No, many of those businesses do their part to encourage employees to take part in community endeavors and they bring money and resources to the region, especially much-needed jobs for those who live here.

But we also lose something when we become more and more beholden to conglomerates whose long-range successes aren’t tied to what happens right here. They aren’t a part of the daily fabric of the place we call home. When profits from large local businesses go to shareholders or owners who don’t even know where Sylva or Waynesville are, we lose something.

People who love living in Western North Carolina embrace the small, independent businesses that make up the fabric of our entrepreneurial community. Look closely at any of the towns in the region. You’ll find that many of its leaders are those who own these smaller businesses, and they also support the numerous efforts to improve schools, bolster youth sports leagues, support the arts, work for environmental causes, and volunteer for any number of nonprofits.

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In a story last week in Asheville’s Mountain Xpress newspaper, famed Highland Brewing Co. founder Oscar Wong was interviewed about the brewery that is attributed with igniting the craft beer craze in Western North Carolina: “We’d hoped to be as integral to the area as possible. That was our goal — to just be a really good citizen and part of the community.”

That phrase, “be a really good citizen,” demands being and living here. It really can’t happen in absentia.

Or course Asheville is suffering the same fate in terms of corporations moving in, but there’s also several locally owned corporations — Biltmore Estate, Biltmore Farms, Ingles, Highland Brewing among them — that have local ownership and who proudly wave that banner and walk the walk. That means their leaders are involved in chambers of commerce and economic development, helping to build community and doing their part to make this region such a great place to live and work — because they also live and work here.

We all play a role in this issue. If you love our vibrant small towns and want them to be here as time moves on, support those independent businesses, whether it’s the local gallery or pub or the small tire store or dog bakery.

As Percy Bysshe Shelley put it so poetically in 1816, “Man’s yesterday may ne’er be like his morrow; Nought may endure but Mutability.” Change is inevitable and the only constant.

I accept the reality of huge corporations in our capitalistic society. The big get bigger, and some get insanely big. And as the popularity of this region continues to grow, we’re going to get more of those types of businesses. I like a vibrant economy, but ….

… I still remember when I first explored Waynesville’s Main Street in 1992 while interviewing for a job and the impression it made. In the ensuing decades, I have often feared the small businesses and the energy and uniqueness they bring to Sylva, Franklin, Waynesville or Bryson City could one day disappear. I don’t think I’d like this place as much if that ever happened.

(Scott McLeod can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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