Western North Carolina’s green economy is growing — and getting cleaner. A coalition of leaders from the economic development, education and government sectors is creating a business strategy to generate jobs and entrepreneurial startups, attract public and private investment and position the region as a global leader in clean energy innovation.
The initiative brings together representatives from across Western North Carolina to develop a cohesive approach to grow and market the region’s potential in energy efficiency, renewable energy and clean vehicles industries. Led by Asheville-based Land-of-Sky Regional Council, partners in the project include AdvantageWest, the economic development partnership serving Western North Carolina, and the five other westernmost Regional Councils of Government: the High Country Council of Governments, based in Boone; the Isothermal Planning and Development Commission, based in Rutherfordton; the Northwest Piedmont Council of Governments, based in Winston-Salem; the Southwestern Commission, based in Sylva; and the Western Piedmont Council of Governments, based in Hickory.
“The pressures and threats that are driving the clean energy economy are clear,” said Joe McKinney, executive director of the Land-of-Sky Regional Council. “Environmental, economic and national security concerns relating to energy production and use are driving the growth of clean energy industries. As a region, we should be positioning ourselves to capitalize on the tremendous growth potential of the emerging economy of clean energy.”
More than 100 representatives of businesses, governments, colleges and universities, nonprofits and other organizations around the region met recently with AngelouEconomics, a nationally recognized consulting firm specializing in renewable energy and economic development. Over the last several weeks, the firm has been assessing the region’s existing clean energy business cluster and identifying trends, niche strengths and opportunities in the clean energy economy. It has also explored links to the global energy marketplace and recommended supportive public policies.
The firm’s findings, due this month, will lead to targeted implementation strategies throughout the 31-county project area and the full launch of the project. This will include the development of a regional clean energy brand as well as marketing, business outreach and recruitment efforts.
The project team has formed a leadership group that represents business, government, education, the public policy sector, economic development organizations, utilities and related groups. Other core components of the initiative include establishing an online networking platform and resource directory for clean energy businesses (www.advantagegreennetwork.org).
“In assessing our region’s clean energy assets and opportunities, we are being responsive to the needs of our growing base of clean energy companies and ensuring that our region makes the most of its unique position in this industry to create quality jobs for the citizens of Western North Carolina,” said AdvantageWest CEO Scott Hamilton.
The initiative builds on other clean energy efforts led by Land-of-Sky and AdvantageWest. The project is funded with grants from the N.C. Rural Center, the U.S. Dept. of Commerce and the Appalachian Regional Commission.