Connecting a community: Women of Waynesville make their mark

wib wowTurning onto North Hill Street in downtown Waynesville, you’re immediately greeted by overhanging maples sporting the latest in fall colors. Pulling into the Twin Maples Farmhouse, the picturesque property is silent, peaceful, as if pulled from some sort of Norman Rockwell painting.

Women in Business 2015

coverWomen climbing the corporate ladder or owning their own businesses is nothing new, and in fact North Carolina is among the nation’s leaders in this area. Still, those we interviewed for a series of stories on women in business say they sometimes face unique challenges as they move toward an era where the playing field is more level than ever before.

Choppy seas? Not a chance: It’s always smooth sailing for Nyda Bittmann-Neville

wib nydaNyda Bittmann-Neville is a powerhouse of business savvy.

Grace and poise define her. Professional becomes her. Composed and collected — always.

Tapping into the future: Nicole Dexter of Innovation Brewing

wib innovationIt’s nearing lunchtime in downtown Sylva. The noonday traffic passes by a small building that houses Innovation Brewing. Inside, Nicole Dexter is checking equipment, hauling bags of hops and malt, all the while ready to take on another day amid her dream.

“Things have been going really great,” the 28-year-old said. “Our numbers are much better than we projected or anticipated.” 

Moonlit magic in Balsam

wib teasleyThe first time Merrily Teasley saw the Balsam Mountain Inn was somewhat dreamlike. It was during a full moon hike that would reroute her life. 

“There was no illumination except for the moon,” Teasley recalled. “It just looked like magic. It was gorgeous.”

Women in Business: Profiles

The disappearing glass ceiling: Women-run entities rise in importance, numbers

coverLisa Leatherman wasn’t trying to prove a point when she joined Nantahala Power and Light in 1987, the company’s third-ever female meter reader. She wasn’t trying to make a statement by moving up through the ranks as a powerhouse operator, engineer, vegetation management worker, relicensing agent or, as of January 2013, district manager for Duke Energy. 

“I didn’t accept the job wanting to blaze some trail because I was a woman,” she said. “It was a job to do. I’ve generally always approached any job like that. I try to do it my absolute best.”

Women in Business address wide-ranging issues

Women in Haywood County looking to improve their business savvy can find support and inspiration from the Greater Haywood Chamber of Commerce’s Women in Business seminar series, designed to educate local women and connect them to one another.

The program, which was kick-started in March 2009, will host its seventh luncheon on Oct. 28, a look into the possibility of a double-dip recession with Appalachian State University banking professor Dr. Harry Davis.

The series got its start in 2009 when several active chamber members and Executive Director CeCe Hipps noticed a niche that wasn’t being filled — there was no forum for women in leadership and business to connect with one another.

“One of the things that we noticed is that more and more women are serving in leadership positions in business,” said Laura Leatherwood, Executive Director of Continuing and Adult Education at Haywood Community College and a member of the program’s founding committee. “We needed to start bringing some women together and figuring out what they need.”

So that’s just what they did. A small founding committee was formed that began looking to other cities and counties around the country who were already running programs for businesswomen, trying to find the model that would be right for Haywood County.

The group finally settled on a format pioneered in Manhattan Beach, Calif., and began putting together an inaugural seminar, hoping to drum up at least a little interest within the community. But when their first speaker, Amy Forte, Snior Vice President of Morgan Stanley, gave her address, Hipps and her committee were astounded by the response.

“We exceeded our turnout on the first one,” she said, and they’ve steadily drawn 70 to 80 attendees at every event, both men and women.  

Mark Clasby is one of those men. As executive director of the Haywood County Economic Development Center, he’s attended several luncheons and said he was very impressed with the program.

“I think they’re great,” said Clasby. “They have tremendous attendance, and I think they’re well-received by women in the business community. I enjoyed them tremendously.”

And that is part of the goal, according to Hipps and Leatherwood — to engage and educate both women and men in the business community who don’t often have the chance to attend chamber functions or meet fellow business leaders otherwise.

“Most of the things that we do here at the chamber are targeted at the main person or the main contact at the business,” said Hipps. “There’s very little for people at the management level.”

In addition to Forte, they’ve hosted a career fashion show, a panel discussion with prominent female leaders in the local area, and a marketing seminar with consultant and now-resident Nyda Bittman-Neville, among others. Hipps says they try to stick to a strict 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. schedule to allow women to come on their lunch break without being rushed.

She hopes that the forums will provide the opportunity for women across all areas of business to get together, get to know one another and hopefully help them make connections that will grow their businesses or further their careers, no matter what level they’re at currently.

“It’s a way to get to a specific group of our members who are women and provide them with some resources and information that they need to be successful or continue to be successful in their careers,” said Hipps.

Hipps and her committee, she said, are constantly looking for needs in the female business community that they can meet, conducting surveys at events and quizzing local women about what would interest and benefit them most.

“We came to the table and said, ‘well what are women struggling with now? What are businesses struggling with? What are leaders struggling with?’” said Leatherwood of the planning process. Those questions build the foundation for where the program will go next.

Both Hipps and Leatherwood said they’d like to see the program expand into the younger generation in the future, reaching out to young women just starting or thinking about their future careers.

“If you think about the younger generation, the younger people that are taking over, either family businesses or they aspire to start their own business, I think that’s probably really a target population for us,” said Leatherwood, “and they’re our future leaders of tomorrow.”

Hipps echoed that sentiment, saying that she’d love to see the program expand into mentoring and connecting younger women to older, more experienced women in their field and others. She is wary, however, of expanding too fast and not being able to offer the quality of service that the program has now.

“Sometimes when you expand too quickly, you can’t do what you set out to do,” and since the Women in Business program is completely self-funded — it’s run by volunteers and paid for by the luncheon fee — Hipps wants to be careful that they don’t overstretch their budget trying to dip too many toes into the water.

But wherever the program goes in the future, both Hipps and Leatherwood hope to continue seeing the business community gain knowledge and networking that will benefit both individuals and the county as a whole.

“We hope to build on it,” said Leatherwood. “We’d like to draw more people from the Jackson County and Swain County area, but I think more than anything I hope we can sustain it and continue to offer topics that are useful to women.”


Want to attend?

Who: Dr. Harry Davis,

ASU professor of banking

What: “Will We Have a Double - Dip?”

When: Thursday, Oct. 28, 11:30 a.m.

Where: The Gateway Club

How much: $20 chamber members,

$25 for non-members

Registration: 828.456.3021 or visit

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