CULLOWHEE – Leaders from government, business and nonprofits across Western North Carolina will gather with economic development experts and others to discuss solutions leading to sustainable economic and community development at LEAD:WNC, a one-day summit set for Wednesday, Nov. 12, at Western Carolina University.
With the theme “Connecting Leaders: Building Regional Success,” the summit also will include the participation of economic forecasters, business development specialists and entrepreneurs. “This event is a call to those who look to be a part of the sustainable growth and economic strengthening of Western North Carolina,” said Tony Johnson, executive director of Millennial Initiatives at WCU. “Those who gather at LEAD:WNC will be asked to be part of setting the agenda for future events as we work together to meet the region’s potential.”
Summit activities are set for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Ramsey Regional Activity Center.
Planning for the event has been ongoing for the past year, and it is an outgrowth of a regional engagement retreat that brought together about 100 university and community leaders in October 2013 to examine strategies for strengthening partnerships between the university and region. Launching an annual conference of regional leaders and thinkers to work collaboratively on solving regional issues was among the pledges made by WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher in his March 2012 installation address.
“Western North Carolina is not a homogenous whole,” Belcher said. “It is a region defined by the haves and the have-nots – some areas where people are struggling to survive economically and other areas that are thriving with commerce and investment. We hope this summit and future events on WCU’s campus will ultimately lead to a regionally focused strategy for economic and community development that will enhance the quality of life for all of the region’s citizens.”
The summit keynote speaker will be Michael L. Walden, the William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at North Carolina State University. Walden will speak at 11 a.m. on the state’s most pressing economic challenges and opportunities, with a focus on the role WNC will play in future development.
Walden is the author of a syndicated newspaper column, “You Decide,” which is carried by more than 40 newspapers in the state. His daily radio program, “Economic Perspective,” airs on multiple stations and he is the author of seven books, including the recently published “North Carolina in the Connected Age: Challenges and Opportunities in a Globalized Economy.”
The afternoon will include a series of panel discussions moderated by experts from WCU. Each session will be used to establish the agenda for a follow-up event. The lineup of discussions includes: creative arts (the changing regional landscape, and how leaders can better leverage the region’s creative history to drive the economy); education (topics ranging from Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Education, also known as STEM, to incorporating schools with local economies); health care (the hurdles and heroes of the WNC health care sector); innovation and technology (how area inventors are connecting, working together and supporting each other); natural products (the growing interest by established and new companies in products rooted in nature); and tourism (what area organizations are doing to drive tourism and the challenges they face in the future).
Summit activities also will include a presentation by three WCU faculty members focusing on the “2014 Regional Outlook Report,” a comprehensive study of major demographic, economic, social and political issues facing WNC. The report is designed to equip area leaders with the information they will need to make informed decisions about the future of the region.
A lunchtime presentation will be delivered by Clifton Lambreth, a two-time WCU graduate who was part of Ford Motor Co.’s recovery from a $12.5 billion loss in 2006 to a $2 billion profit three years later. Lambreth is the author of three books, “Ford and the American Dream,” “The Return to Greatness” and “The Ad Man.”
Although summit activities will begin at 10 a.m., a pre-summit session has been set for 9 a.m. at the Ramsey Center for a discussion titled “Working Together to Expand Broadband.” Leaders from the N.C. departments of Commerce, Public Safety and Public Instruction will be on hand to discuss that topic.
WCU’s partners in presenting the summit are Optimum Capital Funding, Duke Energy and Mission Health.
Registration, including lunch, is $59 per person through Friday, Oct. 31, and $99 per person after that date.