Land of Sky Regional Council Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS): Our Region, Our Future
By: Nathan Ramsey, Executive Director, Land of Sky Regional Council
The pandemic caused disruption for us all. But for most of us, we were able to overcome the challenges we faced with help from our families, communities, and so many others. While the pandemic public health emergency has passed and the negative health impacts from COVID19 are less severe, we know many things in our life will never be the same. Prior to the pandemic I had only participated in a few remote meetings. I didn’t have a zoom account and I cannot recall ever using MS Teams. Now we can return to in-person meetings and events. I enjoy in-person meetings and usually learn far more by being there in the same room. But today I will participate in more remote meetings in one day than I did in total prior to the pandemic. Many of our staff offices are quiet as our team members are working from home on a regular basis.
Post pandemic, our region must be prepared for the transformative changes that are coming due to technological, labor market and economic disruption. We were reminded in the pandemic about the dangers of being too dependent on a few sectors in our economy. Our region had maintained the lowest unemployment rate in North Carolina for over five years prior to the pandemic. But early in the pandemic we held the distinction of having the highest unemployment rate in the state. While our economy and labor market has generally recovered, many things are not back to the way things were. Housing costs have exploded so that we now have the highest housing prices in NC, purchasing or renting a place to live has never been more unaffordable.
To prepare our region in Western North Carolina for a more resilient, equitable and prosperous future, Land of Sky Regional Council in 2022 convened the Chambers of Commerce in our five-county region. These counties comprise our Council member governments as well as the areas included in the Asheville MSA. To help us develop this regional strategy we engaged Ernst & Young (EY US) Economic Development Advisory Services (EDAS) to supplement our internal capacity on our Economic & Community Development team. EY reviewed more than 20 existing strategic plans and studies in the region to identify themes for collaboration and partnership. While each of these five counties have economic, political and cultural differences, they all share much in common. Regional stakeholders included private sector leadership from the Chambers of Commerce and by extension the thousands of local businesses that are Chamber members.
The stakeholders identified our region’s strengths, challenges, and opportunities. The focus areas centered around five major topics: Place-based growth, Economic mobility and workforce development, Housing availability, Transportation and infrastructure and Regional marketing and branding. While many of these topics are also challenges at the state and national, even global level, our region is experiencing what is perceived to be even more severe challenges when benchmarked against state and national data. Business leaders recognized the lack of workforce and affordable housing is contributing to greater difficulty in recruiting and retaining their workforce. As the region grows, the region is experiencing infrastructure challenges in transportation, water/sewer capacity and other basic infrastructure. These leaders identified many areas for potential collaboration to increase the region’s talent supply and promote a shared regional identity.
Priorities were established for Housing Expansion and Diversification, Transportation and Infrastructure Improvement and Workforce Development. Guiding principles of this work included Leadership Collaboration and Awareness, Access and Reliability, Diversity and Inclusion, and Equity and Economic Mobility. To implement these priorities, EY EDAS recommended the formation of a Regional Business Council led by the region’s Chambers of Commerce. The most urgent need was to expand and diversify the region’s housing stock. The recommendation for a more regional approach could accelerate housing development for residents across income levels. This included an integrated approach to housing and infrastructure development which could possibly lead to a regional housing trust fund. Additional focus areas included transportation and infrastructure improvements including high-speed broadband, connecting greenway and trail systems, and enhanced mobility options.
We understand this work isn’t easy. While our local governments and partners have a long history of working together, meeting the challenges of today and beyond will require greater collaboration. We are excited about more opportunities for the public and private sectors to achieve common goals for a brighter future for everyone in our region. The Land of Sky CEDS is doubling down on greater collaboration so our region will have a brighter, more prosperous and equitable future for all. We cannot afford to leave anyone behind because our future depends on it. To learn more about our CEDS please visit the following links or contact us.
Regional Resiliency and Strategic Plan Alignment Report landofsky.org/pdf/LGS/CEDS/LOS_RegionalResiliencyStrategicAlignment_Report.pdf
Labor Shed and Target Industry Analysis Microsoft PowerPoint – 07.29.22 Land of Sky Labor Shed and Target Industry Analysis Report_FINAL (Revised table p.66 – 09.29.22).pptx
Land of Sky 2020 CEDS . (arcgis.com)
Nathan Ramsey, Executive Director/Workforce Director email@example.com
Erica Anderson, Deputy Director/Economic & Community Development Director firstname.lastname@example.org