By Scott Nicholson
Watauga now has a stamp of approval for its job-creation efforts.
The Watauga County Economic Development Commission and Boone Area Chamber of Commerce hosted a Lunch and Learn Thursday to introduce a new certification for entrepreneurship
AdvantageWest’s Pam Lewis, Planning director Joe Furman, EDC chairman Fowler Cooper, AdvantageWest CEO Scott Hamilton, Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation’s Brian Crutchfield and Grandfather Mountain’s Harris Prevost accept an entrepreneurial certification Thursday. Photo by Scott Nicholson
The county was celebrating its new status as a Certified Entrepreneurial Community, which acknowledges local efforts to help people start their own small businesses.
“These certifications we are receiving tend to set the Boone area apart,” said chamber president Dan Meyer, adding that a recession was one of the best times to start a business.
Fowler Cooper, EDC chairman, said the distinction was rare and the result of much work. “We are only one of three in the state, as of today,” he said. “It takes about five stages of certification. It’s not something that’s handed out daily.”
He said qualifying counties needed a long-term economic-development strategy and that Watauga County had long supported entrepreneurship. The Appalachian Enterprise Center was a great example of business creation, Cooper said, noting that SCORE, Appalachian State University and Caldwell Community College & Technical Institute had partnered to help spur job activity.
AdvantageWest CEO Scott Hamilton said Watauga had proven its commitment to helping small businesses. Photo by Scott Nicholson
Scott Hamilton, CEO of the regional economic-development agency AdvantageWest, said partnerships were a productive way of creating new businesses and said such recognition ceremonies were important. He said successful communities should work together for certification that created a positive by-product for the community.
“We had 18 counties sign up to go through this process when we first started it,” Hamilton said. In two years, three communities have been certified, and Hamilton said it was a fairly rigorous process that helped communities understand what steps helped launch new businesses.
He said as more communities were certified, they could share information and tactics to help each other improve regional economies.
Jimmy Hunt presented his development of “Music on the Mountaintop,” a music festival that promotes sustainable techniques and uses solar power for the equipment. He recruited 15 non-profits to exhibit and returned a portion of profits to conservation agencies.
Hunt said he developed a business plan through a class at Appalachian State University, and though he dropped the class, he created Yellow Dog Entertainment to host the festival. With the help of friends and local entrepreneurial resources, he pulled off the first show last year, and he described himself as “basically a dreamer.”
He combined his love of music and the outdoors, and said entrepreneurial experts were not just allies but friends. His goal is to continue the festival and unite environmental stewardship with music, and is planning two other festivals in the United States.
The festival will have 20 artists this year, headlined by Sam Bush, and Hunt wants to build it into a large annual event. He called the first year “trial and error,” saying he planned the festival for 14 months and had learned how to cut costs for his business.
Appalachian Enterprise Center director Don Wood said the center was a partnership offering “tons of resources,” some inside and some outside the center. “There’s just a wealth of knowledge and resources in the area,” Wood said.
The center rents office space and other assets, as well as board and meeting rooms. The center’s address is www.appalachianenterprisecenter.com.