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Archive for Economic News – Page 2

Commissioners Approve Road Priority List

The Jackson County Commissioners Monday approved their priority list of local road projects for the next three years. Commission Chairman Jack Debnam serves on the Regional planning Organization (RPO) which is comprised of commissioners and officials from adjoining counties who review the recommendations from local citizens and the NC DOT for determining the priorities for road upgrades and improvements for the multiple county area. The Jackson County Commissioners identified: The upgrade of  NC 107 from US 23  Business to NC 116 to boulevard status  with a median, improvement of intersections, and the construction of access management improvements; replace the two lane US 64 from NC 107 to Lance Road with a three lane road and construct a round about at the intersection of US 64 and NC 107; construct a westbound ramp at US 74 at US 23 Business; US Business from Hospital Road to NC 107 to be widened to four lane divided boulevard; Old Settlement Road from  NC 107 to NC 116 to be widened to a minimum of 22 feet; Ledbetter Road/Monteith Gap Road to be widened with multi-use paths/bike lanes, extend Ledbetter Road to connect Monteith Gap Road as a loop road; and finally to replace Wilmont Bridge and modernize the intersection.  Commissioner Debnam will meet with the RPO next week to establish the priorities for the region. The list will then be turned over to the North Carolina Department of Transportation for further review. After the review process is completed the recommendations will be turned over to the Highway Commission for approval and funding.

Brenda Anders Receives Duke Energy Citizenship And Service Award At Chamber of Commerce Event.

Brenda Anders who is the Executive Director of the Dogwood Crafters Cooperative in Dillsboro was the recipient of the Annual Duke Energy Citizenship and Service Award presented Thursday night at the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce Holiday Reception. This award is a tribute to individuals or groups who make a difference in their communities or places of work by using their time, talents and compassion to positively impact the lives of others. Recipients of the award help foster a culture of citizenship and service that acts as a catalyst for others to become involved in civic and social activities. Brenda Anders was nominated by the Dillsboro Merchants Association, as well as Carolyn Wiggins, for her continued commitment,  passion, and enthusiasm for the township of Dillsboro. Anders has provided key leadership to the Dogwood Crafters Cooperative which has given hundreds of local and regional artisans the opportunity to market their craft products in a viable way with a Cooperative with a reputation for having sustained uncompromising quality workmanship for a long period of time. Brenda has also led the Dogwood Cooperative toward their long term goal of having their own property in a key Dillsboro location which is critical for the long term success of the organization and opportunities for future artisans from the region. The crystal award was presented by Lisa Leatherman who is the Manager of the Nantahala Division of Duke Energy.

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Jackson County Hires Richard Price As The New Director Of Economic Development

Joseph Richard Price (Rich) has accepted the position of  Jackson County Director of Economic Development effective  November 1, 2013. Mr. Price has been a resident of the Whittier community in Jackson County since 1991 and is a 1988 graduate of Western Carolina University. He possesses a diverse professional background involving banking, management, owning and operating an small business, and most recently a member of the senior administrative staff with Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Hotel serving as the Director of Casino Marketing. Rich brings a proven track record in relationship marketing, financial  analysis, strategic planning, and sales.  The appointment of Rich Price follows an extensive recruitment and interview process that involved business leaders, education leaders, leaders in the travel and tourism industry, elected officials and other county employees.

The Director of Economic Development reports to the county manager and will utilize a Business and Industry Advisory Committee composed of leaders from local community to develop strategies for implementing the Jackson County  comprehensive economic development strategy that was created and approved by the Board of Commissio0mers in 2012. As Director, Mr. Price will work with existing business and industry to address the challenges and obstacles they are experiencing and to respond to inquiries about Jackson County as a possible site for new business opportunity, One of the first task for the new director will be preparing an inventory of existing businesses and industry,  identifying available buildings and properties for new business development, and documenting the location of existing utility infrastructure that is an essential component of economic development

The office location for the Director Of Economic Development will be room A231 in the justice and Administration Building

Duke Energy Approves Grants

NanGrants

Duke Energy has approved the funding of seven riparian (streamside) habitat enhancement projects in the watersheds and tailwaters of its Nantahala area hydroelectric projects.

Grant funds total $109,057 and matching and in-kind funds for the projects total $406,873.62.

Duke Energy established the Riparian Habitat Enhancement Fund as a commitment in the Tuckasegee Cooperative Stakeholder Team and Nantahala Cooperative Stakeholder Team Settlement Agreements, which were made during relicensing the company’s Nantahala area hydroelectric projects.

The Riparian Habitat Enhancement Fund was established to protect or enhance fish and wildlife habitat directly or educate school children or landowners about the importance of healthy riparian areas for fish and wildlife habitat. “Riparian” refers to areas along a stream, which are important for stream stability, fish and wildlife habitat, and water quality.

An advisory board, comprised of state and federal resource agencies and county soil and water conservation experts, ranked project proposals based on criteria such as long-term impact, direct benefits to riparian resources, broad support for the project (demonstrated by co-funding), creativity, and the ability to show measurable results. Based on those recommendations, Duke Energy funded seven of the proposed projects.

Brief project descriptions are as follows:

  • Killian Farm – Cartoogechaye Creek Restoration: Stream bank and aquatic habitat restoration in Cartoogechaye Creek, a tributary of the Little Tennessee River near Franklin, N.C. Requestor: Land Trust for the Little Tennessee
  • Kelly Farm – Savannah Creek Restoration: Stream bank and aquatic habitat restoration in Savannah Creek, a tributary of the Tuckasegee River near Dillsboro, N.C. Requestor: Land Trust for the Little Tennessee
  • Riparian Education & Enhancement in the Hiwassee River Watershed: Replanting riparian buffers and educating local school children and landowners on the value of these buffers using a small tributary of the Hiwassee River near Hayesville, N.C. Requestor: Hiwassee Watershed Coalition
  • Little Tennessee River Greenway Riparian Restoration & Education: Remove invasive exotic vegetation and plant native trees and shrubs at the confluence of Cartoogechaye Creek and the Little Tennessee River near Franklin, N.C. Requestor: Friends of the Greenway
  • Tributary to Hiwassee River Rehabilitation: Reconstruct 1,000 feet of stream bank and enhance riparian buffers on a small tributary of the Hiwassee River near Murphy, N.C. Requestor: United States Forest Service
  • Instructional Stream Table: Purchase a stream table to be used in teaching Swain County school children about the value of riparian buffers and stream habitat. Requestor: Swain County Soil and Water Conservation District
  • Restoration Tasks in Jackson County: Stream bank reconstruction on a tributary of the Tuckasegee River, Savannah Creek, near Webster, N.C. Requestor: Watershed Association of the Tuckasegee River

 

Another request for proposals will be issued by the Riparian Habitat Enhancement Fund Advisory Board in early 2014. The application will be posted at http://www.duke-energy.com/lakes/nantahala/hydroelectric-relicensing.asp

Commissioners Approve Contract For Dillsboro Landfield Improvements

Jackson County is responsible for maintenance of the Dillsboro Landfill on Haywood Road which closed in 1998 for at least 30 years. This year the landfill has experienced some significant slope failure, some suspect because of the higher amount of rainfall. However the county is not eligible for state or federal funds at the current time because the structure failure was not directly tied to the January situation of heavy rains which let to slope failure on US Highway 441 between Cherokee and Tennessee.  According to Jackson County Manager Chuck Wooten, should there be significant slope failure which exposed buried garbage the county would have no choice but act quickly and without little control over the costs. The County voted to enter into a contract with Lofquist and Associates to develop plans for drainage, structure stabilization, and drainage control.  With road construction taking place on Highway 107 a significant amount of free dirt is available which can be used to construct slopes with a lesser degree of slope which would stabilize the surface, allow for easier maintenance, and cost the county about half the cost otherwise. The contract is going to cost the county about $400,000 which will be taken from the reserve in the Solid Waste Fund. This is about half the cost if the repairs had to made under a full contract basis. The County will be responsible for contracting for the drainage, ground stabilization, and maintenance.

Jackson County Commissioners Deal With Financial and Unemployment Issues.

The Jackson County Commissioners addressed numerous significant issues at their Monday October 7th meeting at the Jackson County Justice Center. Concerns with the impact of the Federal government soon surfaced at the meeting with both positive and negative reports being heard.  It was included in County Manager Chuck Wooten’s report that the County receives $160,000 in federal funding for several services provided through the Department of Social Services. One of the largest of these services is the $129,000 for child care which allows parents to work or go to school. These programs are still operating in Jackson County because of reserve funds at the federal level, however if the federal government shut down continues it would become a county decision whether the county would continue with those services in expectation of getting a federal reimbursement later. No one has any assurances this will take place so several counties in the state have already put the providers on a ten day notice the services will be provided. County manager Wooten informed the Commissioners this is a topic that would need county consideration. Even though a ten day notice is not required by statute, counties are giving the notice so parents and providers can prepare. Wooten also stressed the domino affect of parents missing work, losing paydays, and employers handicapped due to their workers absence.

On a positive note the Commissioners heard the Jackson County unemployment rate at the end of August 2013 had dropped to 7.2% this is a further reduction from July when the rate of unemployment was 8% and 8.3 percent in July 2012. It was also reported the Jackson County Board of Education had been able to stretch their funds to avoid the loss of any teachers aids and assistants this year. School Superintendent Dr. Michael Murray was quoted as saying that next year might be a different story but at least this year they have been able to keep the employees in place.

Public Perception of Park Closing Could Hurt Local Economy

Steve Morse, economist and director of the Hospitality and Tourism Department at WCU is predicting that this fall season could be one of the best for hotels and other local businesses in the mountains due to several factors such as: favorable travel conditions and a drop in hotel and gas prices . October is traditionally the most busy tourist season for “leaf lookers” here in the Great Smoky Mountains. Dr. Morse, as well as many business owners here in the mountains do fear that not enough people know that while the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, along with its trails and facilities are currently closed due to the government shut down, highway 441 from Gatlinburg to Cherokee still remains open.

Funds Allocated for Jackson County School District

Superintendent Dr. Murray is allocating the new funds from the Jackson County Commissioners and planning the final stages of the current building projects in the Jackson County School District. Smoky Mountain High School’s current construction project of the new fine arts building and gymnasium are reaching their final stages. The new allocation of funds from the County Comission will greatly help the School Board progress their construction projects and even adding on more Resource Officers as needed and help in keeping Teacher’s Asssistants in the classrooms.

The ICF Canoe Freestyle World Championships Are Here

It has taken years of planning and months of construction in the Nantahala River to prepare for Monday evening’s official opening of the Freestyle Kayaking World Championships to take place in Bryson City. Hundreds of water enthusiasts have been arriving in Swain county over the last month for a shot at some practice time in the specially constructed 2013 Wave water feature on the Nantahala River. The event will attract competitors from forty-five nations and thousands of spectators who are expected to fill the campgrounds and fill motel and hotel rooms and pour thousands of dollars into the local economy for food, beverage, lodging, parking fees, and transportation. On Monday, the town of Bryson City will host a parade of Athletes and the Opening ceremonies starting at 6:00 p-m. There will also be a performance of the Warriors of Anikituhwa, a traditional Cherokee dance group; the group will be followed by the Big Air Show and music in downtown Bryson City. The competition begins with the first heat races on Tuesday and continues through the quarter finals, semi-finals, and the finals on Sunday September 8th.  The competition will include competition in the men’s and women’s classes as well as junior classes. Between the competitions there will be fun activities such as Fontana Lake demo tours, kayak races, head to head SUP races, rodeo races, rubber duckie races, a canoe ball race and more. On Tuesday the NOC Mini-Me Rodeo  will feature teams of four paddlers out to surf the 2013 Wave earning points for spins, stunts, and spectacular carnage. On Wednesday the highlight will be the Wave Sport Wesser Falls Extreme Race which includes the 2013 wave, the Class 5 Wesser Falls, and ends up  in Fontana Lake.  On Thursday the Bomber Gear SUP Race is for stand up Paddleboarders  who race head to head through the 2013 Wave. Also on Thursday the 2013 ICF Freestyle World Champions competitors face off on the Nantahala River. Other events and the championships are scheduled for the weekend with the championship award ceremonies on Sunday afternoon.

Webster Enterprises has Record Year

Several months ago WRGC reported that Webster Enterprises, a manufacturing and work training center located in Jackson county, has been anticipating growth in its business and work force due to increases in production demand and the addition of a new industry to their facilities. Earlier in the year, Webster Enterprises announced the hiring of two new management personnel along with one executive staff promotion. At the time, Webster stated that the new management level positions were due to the Board of Directors anticipation of the expansion and growth of their operation over the next two to three years. Along with the new job positions, a new sewing division was also implemented. Now, after the conclusion of its fiscal year on June 30, Webster Enterprises has announced that it had a record year in both production and revenues. “Our $384,000 increase in revenues placed our total income slightly under $1,615,000. We were fortunate to have increased orders from nearly all of our customers and our production staff met orders on time,” said Gene Robinson, Webster’s Executive Director . Currently, Webster Enterprises’ customer base is centered on suppliers to the medical field and involves the manufacturing of various sizes of drapes, tray covers and other disposable items used in operating rooms. “Through our customers, our products are used worldwide,” Robinson noted. Production totals for the medical devices reached a record number of more than one million units. Not included are pieces produced in the newly formed sewing division.

Also as part of the growth and development of the company the Rehabilitation Division has been renamed Education and Training, according to director Kathleen Redman. “This name change more accurately reflects the mission and responsibility of our program within Webster Enterprises.” The number of individuals with disabilities being served is about fifty percent of the total employee base of nearly eighty people. Webster Enterprises was founded in 1976 to provide training and job skills for people with disabilities, and that continues to be its main focus today. It is a common misconception that they only employ the handicapped workers. Part of their job training program for disabled workers includes having them work side-by-side with fully-abled workers on the same production lines, so employees of all walks have found a home at Webster. In the months and years ahead Webster Enterprises continued growth projections seems to be good news for both disabled and able-bodied job seekers in Jackson, Swain, and Macon counties.

 

Internet Provider VistaNet seeks Million Dollar Loan from Jackson County

During Monday’s scheduled meeting of the Jackson County Commission it was announced that an internet service provider has made an application for a $1,000,000 loan from the county’s revolving loan fund to aid in the start-up cost in providing rural areas of Jackson County with high-speed wireless internet access. County Manager Chuck Wooten made the announcement to the county commissioners that internet company VistaNet had made the application. Mr. Wooten had the following to say in regard to the details of the loan application; “I’ve reported to the commissioners that I’ve had the application for a revolving loan from VistaNet, and the amount of the loan request is $1,000,000 and I asked the commissioners if they would be willing to sit as a loan committee to take a look at the application before their next work session on August the 19th at 1:30 pm.” Over the past several months county leaders have been look at many options for increasing high-speed internet access throughout the region. Chuck Wooten stated that VistaNet’s proposal to locate several wireless internet providing towers across the county has the potential to meet that need, “They’re looking at trying to establish a wireless internet system that would cover the county and that would require them to construct or co-locate a number of towers across the county. They are interested in serving as many people as they can, they have had a call center up and running and have told me that they have had more calls from people in Jackson County than any other county about wanting to have wireless internet service. Although VistaNet would be providing a service that not only county commissioners but also private citizens have established a need for, a loan of this size would be the largest in the history of the revolving loan fund program and when dealing with a loan of that size Mr. Wooten says that there are a number of obstacles that VistaNet would have to overcome in order to reach an agreement. “The revolving loan fund we have matches loan amount with job creation, in this particular case the application indicates 7 jobs to be created. Even if we had $1,000,000 in our loan fund, we assign a value of $10,000 per job Created so they would not be eligible for $1,000,000 from our revolving loan fund. That’s one of the first hurdles that they would have to come over, the commissioners would have to evaluate this particular request and determine it has enough significance that they were willing to take other county funds to provide enough funds to make this loan. They have another hurdle to come over in the fact that we have already had a negative experience with a loan that was made to the telecommunications company “Metrostat” where both the town and the county had loaned Metrostat monies and they defaulted on that loan in December of 2011. When that loan defaulted there really was no collateral there equal to the value of the outstanding loans, they will have to convince the commissioners that they can fully collateralize this loan.” Another thing the commissioners will have to consider when looking over this loan application is that several other high-speed internet providers are currently looking at options to increase coverage area without requesting loans from public funds. Chuck Wooten had the following to say; “At this point in time AT&T has told us that they are going to be looking to expand both their voice and data wireless service, they have a company looking for tower sites now. When we took back the assets of Metrostat and we knew the town and county would be in the wireless business and we needed to sell those assets, we sold those assets to BalsamWest and BalsamWest committed that they in partnership with Dnet would be looking into expanding internet service to the county. There are several providers out there that have talked about it VistaNet is the first one that’s come with a loan application.” The county commissioners are scheduled August the 19th at 1:30 pm to consider VistaNet’s $1,000,000 loan request.

Heavy Rain Season Proves Challenging for Local Crop Growers

With Agriculture being a large business in Western North Carolina questions have been raised as to what effect the recent high volume of rain will have on the growing industry in our area. Typically growers are concerned about not getting enough rain for their crops, but too much precipitation can also cause problems. Christy Bredenkamp, Horticultural Specialist for the North Carolina Co-operative Extension had the following to say; “Because of the rainfall we’ve had, disease can come in through the foliage through the wind and rain where there are a lot more leaf spot diseases, there are also diseases that affect the root through the soil. Nutrition wise, the plants are growing much faster and using more fertilizer. If people don’t apply additional side dressings of fertilizer the plants will produce fewer vegetables and fruits or just stop producing.” With the challenges that high rainfall will bring to growing crops our local farmers and growers are already expecting high losses and low production levels this year. “The local farmers know what to do, they are veteran growers and they know how to treat their irrigation systems and what to spray to keep diseases at bay.” Christy Bredenkamp went on to say, “It’s those new growers who don’t have that experience quite yet, they are the ones that are going to suffer more so. It’s the same with gardeners, depending on the type of equipment they have and so-on.” So far Christy Bredenkamp does not expect major issues for the long-time commercial growers in our area, however for the new farmer or the home gardener who may have less experience and equipment than the high volume farms Christy has specific advice for them. “Tomatoes are really suffering. There are wilting diseases and leaf spot diseases, early blight, and late blight already spotted in North Carolina. There is bacterial speck and spot along with different wilting diseases. There are about four different diseases that affect beans. Those are the ones that are going to suffer the most.” For additional information or advice on the challenges of growing in this exceptionally rainy season contact your local North Carolina Local Co-operative extension office at 586-4009.

Final NC Tax Free Weekend

The final North Carolina Tax Free Weekend is only days away. For the past decade the Tax Free Weekend has served as a way for both parents and students to save on back to school supplies. Discounts on State Sales Taxes are offered on a large list of items, including computers, backpacks, and clothing. Due to a major tax reform recently signed into law by North Carolina Governor Pat Mccrory this weekend will the last of those tax holidays. For this coming weekend Sales Taxes are eliminated for clothing, footwear, and school supplies, also items like diapers, coats, and athletic uniforms for items one hundred dollars or less. School supplies include lunchboxes, book bags, and calculators as well as school reference materials, including maps, globes, and textbooks. Sports and recreational gear such as protective padding, helmets, cleats, and even dance shoes are included in the list for items fifty dollars or less. Computing electronics including tablets, netbooks, keyboards, monitors, and speakers for items thirty-five hundred dollars or less per item are also included in the Tax Free Weekend. The Tax Holiday also applies to other computing needs such as data storage media, blank cd’s, printers, paper, and ink. The final Tax Free Weekend will officially begin at 12:01 AM on Friday, August 2nd and will conclude at 11:59 pm on Sunday, August 4th. For a full list of Tax Free items you can visit the North Carolina Department of Revenues website at http://www.dornc.com/.

WCU Chancellor Announces Phasing Out of Some Academic Programs

Western Carolina University Chancellor David O. Belcher announced Thursday, that the university will proceed with the phased discontinuation of 10 of the 13 academic programs previously recommended by a campus task force for closure. Belcher also announced that programs in motion picture and television production, Spanish and Spanish education, which had been recommended for discontinuation, will be retained, with program directors responsible for developing action plans to address weaknesses and take steps toward improvement. Programs that will begin the process of phased discontinuation are a bachelor’s degree program in German; master’s degree programs in health and physical education, mathematics, mathematics education, music, music education and two master’s programs related to teaching English to speakers of other languages; and a minor in women’s studies. In addition, a total of eight programs have agreed to voluntarily discontinue operations because of low enrollment or similarity to other programs available at WCU. Those programs are undergraduate minors in American studies, Appalachian studies, broadcast sales, broadcast telecommunications engineering technology, digital communications engineering technology, earth sciences and multimedia; an undergraduate program in business designed as a second major for non-business students; and master’s degree programs in chemistry education and teaching music. Chancellor Belcher had the following to say about the decision; “I have explored quality indicators. I have considered the degree to which programs and their owners – faculty, coordinators, department heads – have been thoughtfully proactive, before the advent of program prioritization, in recruitment and retention efforts, and the degree to which they have been successful,” he said. “I have explored the differences between need in the region and actual demand for Western Carolina’s programs. And I have wrestled with potential impact of program loss.” Those programs slated for discontinuation will not be closed immediately. They will be placed on inactive status and will not enroll any additional students. The university is developing program-specific plans to “teach out” students currently enrolled in those programs, or to help them transition into a similar program at WCU or to another institution, as it follows best practices for the discontinuation of academic programs. “Western Carolina University cannot be all things to all people. It never could, but the economic climate of the last five years and the resulting budget reductions have made this fact, too often ignored, a blatant reality,” Belcher said. “Our university must focus, ensuring that it does not diffuse its efforts and resources, both fiscal and human, in so many directions that the institution jeopardizes the quality of all of its programs.” Decisions to eliminate academic programs are subject to the approval of the University of North Carolina system. Western Carolina also must follow specific guidelines required by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, WCU’s official regional accrediting agency. Belcher’s announcement regarding his final decisions does not represent the last chapter in program prioritization at WCU. The university will integrate ongoing program prioritization into its regular cycle of program review, which will draw upon additional recommendations made by the task force related to improvements in the process and the data used for assessment.

Detailed information about program prioritization at WCU, including task force recommendations and final decision reports from the chancellor, can be found online at the website programprioritization.wcu.edu.

Education based building projects adding jobs in Jackson County

(07/19/13) Three major construction projects are working around the rain this summer in the Sylva area. Work is progressing on the new performing arts center, classrooms, and gymnasium complex at Smoky Mountain High School. The target date is to have the facility open in time for the upcoming basketball season. Another education based building project is the roof repair project at Cullowhee Valley School. The weather has slowed this project which contractors had hoped to have wrapped up by the time school starts back in August. Workers are taking every opportunity of every break in the weather to reduce the huge inventory of building materials on site and get the leaks stopped in the school. The third project is the new dental clinic being constructed next to the Jackson County Rescue Squad Building on County Services Drive above the Department on Aging. This facility is designed to provide dental training for students completing their internship and practicuum at East Carolina University. The students willl be working under the supervision of a licensed dentist.  The objective of this project is to bring more dentists to underserved rural communities.

Franklin Gazebo May See Renovation

An iconic Franklin landmark may soon be seeing changes. In the new town budget, city leaders of Franklin have appropriated $50,000 to make improvements upon or even completely replace the Main Street Gazebo that is located in downtown Franklin. The iconic structure has served as a stage for performers, and festivals, acted as a gathering spot for seekers and rallies, and generally acts as a central hub for all of Franklin’s downtown activities. Amid all the aformentioned activity the structure has been slowly deteriorating, including the roof and the wooden supports. Also, some have raised concerns that the small floor space and lack of any weather tight storage don’t make the building conducive for all the roles it has been made to fulfill. Before any work can begin on improvements or remodeling of the structure, city leaders would want some minor legal questions answered. Macon County is technically the owner the land that the gazebo is located on. The city of Franklin currently leases the land from Macon county for a low yearly fee and that lease agreement is soon set to expire. City leaders want to properly ensure that the property is locked down in another lease agreement before investing money in renovations or a new structure. Franklin city leaders hope to have all questions answered, and a new and improved gazebos ready and in place by this years Pumpkinfest which will be held in late October.

Concerns over Jackson County Tourism Authority Slogan “Play On”

During the recent meeting of Jackson County’s Tourism Authority board members further discussed their thoughts on the recent adoption of the slogan “Play On” to be the center of their ongoing marketing campaign to draw additional tourism dollars to the area. As previously reported several weeks ago the board voted on several options of campaign slogans that were developed by Virginia based marketing firm BCF. BCF was not only contracted for the upcoming slogan for the campaign, but to aid in market research and development of visual logos for the agreed upon cost of $50,000. Since the adoption of the slogan several concerns have been raised by citizens and board members alike on the cost expenditures and the effectiveness of the campaign developed by BCF. To address those concerns CEO of BCF, Art Webb, was at yesterday’s meeting and encouraged the board to take another look at his proposal, Art Webb had the following to say; “Your best bet at success is not to appeal to you. Do not look at yourself in the mirror and think that’s where success lies, it doesn’t. You are wise to establish a franchise with that next dominant generation who are right now in their 20′s. The work that we’ve done on your behalf has been in the context of the market realities that you’re facing right now, like them or not. Is it too playful? It is precisely the right level of playfulness. Will it appeal to people of all generations? I think it appeals strongly to people younger than, by and large those of us presently in decision-making mode.” Mr. Webb encourages those that have concerns about the slogan, Play on’s effectiveness that the slogan and the campaign behind it were not developed to be particularly appealing to them, but were developed to draw a younger demographic that will continue to visit and bring in tourism dollars for decades to come. In short, Mr. Webb encouraged the tourism authority to continue with the slogan “Play On” and use it to develop a local identity that will draw young tourism dollars to the area.

GSMR Steam Engine Service Delayed for Dillsboro Indefinitely

Recently Jackson County commissioners have been moving forward on a proposal to loan the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad $700,000 to aid in construction of a turn-table as well as to fully restore a steam locomotive. On July 4th, commissioners received a letter from Great Smoky Mountains Railroad owner and CEO Allen Harper. In the letter, Mr. Harper made it abundantly clear that the Railroad would not continue pursuing options to return train service to Jackson County at this time. Mr. Harper had this to say in the letter; “At this time we will postpone moving forward to finalize an agreement with Jackson County as we focus on the renovation and Bryson City turntable installation.” However, in his letter, Mr. Harper made it very clear that the return of Railroad service to Jackson County is not out of question for the future. Mr. Harper said, “We are considering our partnership with Swain County as a Phase one project and remain open to the concept of implementing the steam expansion into Dillsboro as a phase two at a later date.” In spite of great efforts on the part of County commissioners and other county leaders it does not look like steam locomotive service will return any time soon.

The Jackson County Commissioners released the following response:

From:  Jackson County Board of Commissioners

Date:  July 5, 2013

We received the attached letter from Mr. Allen Harper, Owner and CEO, of the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad.  We applaud the efforts of GSMR to rebuild the Steam Engine and concur with Mr. Harper that it would be in their best interest to devote their time and attention to Phase One of this project involving the engine restoration and construction of a turntable in Bryson City.  We are also most appreciative of Swain County’s interest in partnering with Jackson County for steam engine activity between Bryson City and Dillsboro.  We will follow the progress and success of this project and look forward to continuing our conversations with GSMR.  The GSMR is an economic engine to western North Carolina and we will continue to work with GSMR to strengthen our partnership.  Finally, we remain cautiously optimistic that the grant application for the construction of a turntable in Dillsboro will receive favorable consideration from the Appalachian Regional Commission.

Jackson County has a structure/procedure in place for providing economic development loans/incentives to businesses in Jackson County and it was successfully utilized in the loans to WRGC, Jackson Paper, and Webster Enterprises.  In each of these situations, a formal application, pertinent financial information, and adequate collateral was provided to secure the transaction.  This same model can work for an economic partnership with GSMR.

Our immediate attention now shifts to other opportunities for improving the business community in Dillsboro.  We anticipate Duke Energy will offer the river property on the south side of the Tuckasegee for development of a park/recreation area in the near future.  If the Town of Dillsboro decides to forego the gift then it is our understanding that it will be offered to Jackson County.  We would welcome the opportunity to accept this property and develop a park/recreation area in Dillsboro.  This could be the beginning of increased river activities which could positively impact the business environment of Dillsboro and complement the future train activity.  We will also encourage our Jackson County TDA to look closely at their marketing efforts in this area since the hotel rooms in the Dillsboro area generate a significant portion of the funds they receive.

 

Jackson County Dept. of Transportation Converting to Propane/Gas Hybrid Engines

During Mondays meeting of the Jackson County Commission, Commissioners voted unanimously to move ahead with a lease agreement to begin the process of taking several vehicles with the Jackson County Department of Transportation and begin converting them to use propane energy. The three-year lease agreement is for propane conversion equipment from Alliance Auto Gas that will convert regular gas burning engines to a duel-fuel consumption engine. Department of Transportations Chuck Norris had this to say explaining the matter; “This is not a complete conversion, this is a bi-fuel conversion where we will be able to convert and use propane and still be able to use gasoline as well”. The conversion of the propane consumption of the Department of Transportations vehicles is expected to have several cost saving benefits, the first of which is fuel prices. Currently the market price for a gallon of propane is around three dollars, which is a considerable savings compared to current market values of gasoline and diesel. Steve Whaley, a representative of Alliance Autogas gave further details on the conversion, “The price of propane in the last 24 months compared to the national price of gasoline in the last 24 months has averaged $1.50 a gallon less. Propane isn’t tied to the petroleum market anymore because of the number of shale finds of all the natural gases here in the United States. (Propane) has drifted far apart from the gasoline and diesel costs that are on an international market and where ever we get natural gas: methane, pentane, butane, and propane, all of them come out of the ground together and we segregate them so it’s not tied to gasoline prices”. Not only are fuel costs expected to go down maintenance costs are expected to drop as well. With propane being a lower carbon and cleaner burning fuel oil changes can be done less frequently and engine life is expected to rise. Overall the three-year lease agreement for equipment to convert nine vehicles is expected to cost a little over $21,000, and during that same time period the county is expected to save over $26,000 in fuel costs alone. At the end of the three-year lease agreement the county will have the option to purchase the equipment outright for the price of $1. Before critics start to say that all this sounds “too good to be true”, Mr. Norris has said that other governments in our local area have already seen similar results. Several county leaders have said that should this initial conversion project prove as successful as predicted, then other county-wide fleets could see similar upgrades in the future, including maintenance and even sheriff’s department vehicles.

Brevard College put on Probationary Status Due to Debt

Brevard College has been put on probationary status by the Southern Association of Colleges due to its large amount of debt until the school can show improvements in its finances. Currently the school owes up to $17,000,000, $5,000,000 of which is in short-term loans and the remaining $12,000,000 in bonds the school has issued. It was after seeing last years financial records that Southern Association of Colleges decided to put the school on probation. Brevard College’s new President Dr. David Joyce says one of his main focuses is to cut the schools spending and reduce the debt level. According to Dr. Joyce the school is already making in their finances including looking at record enrollment this coming school year. Brevard College will be seeing a %10 boost in its student population from last year which is expected to help the bottom line. The Southern Association of Colleges has put Brevard College on a one year probation, meaning the accredited board will meet in June 2014 to decide whether to cancel Brevard’s probationary status.