Ashe takes advantage
by James Howell
Representatives from Ashe, Alleghany, Caldwell, Watauga, and Wilkes all listened to new money-making opportunities highlighted during an AdvantageWest meeting last Thursday morning at Jefferson Landing.
AdvantageWest is an economic consulting group that helps the Western North Carolina region. AdvantageWest is made up of five large programs, with each housing several smaller programs.
The five main programs include: Entrepreneurial Development, WNC Film Commission, Advanced Manufacturing, Agribusiness (includes Blue Ridge Food Ventures) and Advantage Green.
AdvantageWest’s Entrepreneurial Development program was discussed thoroughly during the meeting. The Blue Ridge Entrepreneurial Council (BREC) offers entrepreneurs the opportunity to network and receive mentoring for the early stages of capital growth, which is critical for an emerging business.
Since BREC’s inception in 2002, it has helped 20 new startup companies by providing around $900,000 in seed stage loans. These loans have contributed to the raising of $9 million in net worth, giving the loans a 10-1 return ratio.
AdvantageWest also advocated for “entrepreneur-ready” communities. In 2007, they created the Certified Entrepreneurial Community (CEC) program to provide startup businesses with the necessary surroundings to flourish. In that time, 10 counties have obtained certification, three are in progress of gaining certification, and six (including Ashe, Alleghany and Wilkes) have expressed interest.
The other AdvantageWest program that was explained in great detail was the WNC Film Commission, which generated over $30 million in regional economic impact thanks to 155 film projects, said Amanda Baranski, executive assistant and assistant corporate secretary. Asheville was the primary location for the popular movie “The Hunger Games.”
This success in Western North Carolina prompted the state’s best year in film history, said Baranski. More than $220 million was spent on production and more than 26,000 movie production jobs were created.
When AdvantageWest board members explained the impact of this program, it was revealed how much money is transferred to the local community during a movie shoot.
While filming “The Hunger Games,” a board member said that director Gary Ross ordered several thousand dollars’ worth of flowers from a local distributer. When the director didn’t like the way those flowers fit in with the scene, he placed several more orders for flowers. The cast of “The Hunger Games” also went through $5,000 worth of ice while in Asheville. In both cases, money was transferred directly to the local community.
Another AdvantageWest program, AdvantageGreen, helped propel a 6.9 percent growth in the clean energy industry, making Western North Carolina the state leader in renewable energy, said Matt Raker, vice president Entrepreneurship and AdvantageGreen.
Advanced Manufacturing has helped to bring in firms like Google, Facebook and General Electric, while the Agribusiness program seeks to help agricultural businesses. A good example of Agribusiness is the Blue Ridge Food Ventures program, which has assisted 100 growing food entrepreneurs.
After expressing her gratitude toward AdvantageWest, Ashe County Manager Dr. Pat Mitchell began a presentation about Ashe County. She said the county’s investment in schools, tourism and arts culture is a “sign of a progressive community.”
During her presentation, Mitchell said the Ashe County Airport would be expanded to create a 5,000 ft. runway by spring of 2013. She also mentioned Ashe County’s strong agricultural industry, led by Fraser firs. It was noted that a Fraser fir from Ashe County would adorn the White House this Christmas.
Of Ashe County’s total population of 27,500, the county has 1,200 employees working in advanced manufacturing. That mainly divides into employees of GE Aviation, AEV, Gates and Leviton.
About AdvantageWest meeting in Ashe County, Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Cabot Hamilton said, “It was a wealth of information,” and that “It was a day well spent.”
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