BIZ BEAT: Lessons from the Land of the Sky

Margot C. Lester, Columnist

When I boarded the bus last Sunday morning for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro
Chamber of Commerce
’s inter-city visit to Asheville, I was expecting a
dog-and-pony show from the host city. After all, the purpose of the trip
was for Orange County leaders to see how the Land of the Sky succeeds
at economic development and tourism and figure out what might work back
home. So you’d expect the Asheville-ites to be at their best. But
despite a couple of presentations that were a little too salesy for my
taste, in the main the visit wasn’t the cheese-fest I thought it would

After two-and-a-half days of presentations by chamber staff, tourism
officials and economic-development experts, the mood on the return trip
was upbeat. There was something in the air, and it wasn’t just a hint of
crisp fall air. I might even have detected a frisson. What had people
energized seemed to be a prevailing sense that change was afoot in
Orange County. This was my first inter-city visit, but veterans told me
something was different this time. It may have been that the host venue
was right here in the Old North State (other trips were to Ann Arbor,
and Madison, Wis.). Or maybe it was that Asheville is a lot more
like us – or the us we wish we were – than those other places. Whatever
the reason, there was a sense this sojourn might result in more actual
changes and action than its predecessors. Unlike other visits, this one
ended with a commitment to keep the momentum going, to bring the group
together again to consider options and propose actions and to have an
inter-city visit among Orange County’s municipalities for a fact-based
discussion of where each is headed. More than one person said to me, “I
think this time we’re ready to do something.”

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