Asheville Daily Planet
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Thursday, 02 May 2019 15:32

From Staff Reports

Western Carolina University acting chancellor, Alison Morrison-Shetlar, reviewed her university’s role as an economic driver — and partner — for Western North Carolina’s economy during an April 5 breakfast meeting of the Council of Independent Business Owners at UNC Asheville’s Sherrill Center.

“I’m delighted to be here,” Morrison-Shetlar, who recently was appointed to her job, said. “I’m always glad to talk about economic development in Western North Carolina.”

When the CIBO crowd applauded, she said smiled and quipped evenly, “I’m done. Thanks!” Her comment triggered much laughter from the audience.

Turning more serious, she added that WCU is “happy” to serve as “a major economic driver” for the region.

“We really value you as an economic partner, especially in communications, websites…. WCU also supports (increaseing) broadband. (in rural areas). It’s not such a big issue here in Asheville, but in the (more) western part of the state, it’s really a big issue.”

Further, Morrison-Shetlar asserted, “Two things we do at WCU — electricity and we have a dam.

“We’ve (recently) worked with Morris Broadband and, as a result, 770 homes will have broadband in the next 12 months — and that’s huge (applause).

“We (at WCU) have a paper plant… It’s old and has machinery. We have some of the top (specialized) printers in Cullowhee and right here in Asheville.

Moreover, Morrison-Shetlar said, “We’re having a lot of people come to us” for help on various projects. “We’re giving to the community in the best way we can.

“As we grow our engineering center here in Asheville (at Biltmore Park), there are a lot of things we want you — as citizens of Asheville — to know about.

“We also do a lot at the Small Business Center,” as well as various other WCU facilities, including the Center for Service Learning,

“We also do a lot of ‘pro bono’ work,” she said. “I’m not sure if a lot of people know about that... We have a free human resources assistance for small businesses... So, again, it’s our students and staff stepping forward..

“Many of you have seen our (WCU) Biltmore Park facility... We have about 650 students at Biltmore Park, primarily in graduate programs... Five years ago we were doing maybe five programs,” but, Morrison-Shetlar said, that number has mushroomed.

“We did a strategic plan analysis at Biltmore Park and the Asheville area,… Through that, we heard again we need leadership development, grant help” and other programs.

In response to the community demand, Morrison-Shetlar said, “Last year, we had maybe 56 credentialed workshops that we offered... So again, we’re getting people into the community... We want to support regional industries, through outdoor recreation and advanced manufacturing, but we can’t do it if you don’t invite us.

“So we have been generating a lot of outreach, letting people know what WCU does.”

To that end, Morrison-Shetlar said, “We’re being recognized, slowly but surely... .” In one survey, “We (WCU) were recently named 13th among (best) colleges and universities, so we’re on the map... We’re also doing a much better job of marketing... So we are a community on the rise.

In addressing the CIBO members directly, she added, “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate what you do in supporting education because it is these young people who are going to move this area forward... Our role in education is to make sure everyone meets their maximum potential... There’s 11,633 of the ‘little darlings’ (students) out there. And they’re all committed to being in Western North Carolina. They’re giving back to the community.

“Just look for the purple (a key school color) — we’re easy to find,” Morrison-Shetlar quipped, triggering laughter.

During a question-and-answer session that followed, an unidentified man asked the WCU chancellor to speak more about “advanced manufacturing.”

At that point, Morrison-Shetlar referred the question to another school official attending the meeting with her — Arthur Salido, WCU’s executive director of community and economic engagement and innovation. 

WCU’s website noted that Salido “works to create partnerships that link university, nonprofit, government, and industry resources to address community and economic development needs primarily in the 16 westernmost counties served by WCU through its Cullowhee campus, Cherokee Center and Asheville area instructional site at Biltmore Park. The focus includes activities designed to boost WCU’s role as a resource for community engagement and on strategies to foster its efforts in regional economic development.”

To the man’s question and speaking for WCU, Salido replied, “We’re going after auto manufacturing and aerospace… Western North Carolina could be a great location” for certain high-tech manufacturing. “There are a lot of growth opportunities.”

The questioner then asked Salido, “Is it a form of help to bigger manufacturers?”

“So, it’s really all of that,” referring to all sizes of manufacturers,” Salido answered. “Our (WCU’s) part would be design and high-level resources and research — and partnering with community colleges who would do the technical training... It’s the pipeline for an industry that has an incredible multiplier” ot two-to-one.

In response to a question from CIBO member Mac Swicegood, Salido said, “Our engineering and technology students are really involved with regional businesses.” For example, he said, “Three (WCU) undergrad students were able to save a company $65,000” recently. “They’re doing real, practical work.”

Redirecting the Q&A to Morrison-Shetlar, UNCA Chancellor Nancy J. Cable said, “I don’t think the people in this room know what a leader Alison has been … For how we keep prices at a place where all students can afford college.” 

To that end, Cable asked Morrison-Shetlar, “Could you share just a few things from ‘the inquisition’” that she endured while testifying before a congressional committee recently?

“I think it was my Scottish accent!” Morrison-Shetlar quipped, triggering yet more laughter from the CIBO audience.

More seriously, she said, “I was the first of five asked to testify before Congress. I was the only (acting) chancellor. Everyone else were policy wonks.”

The acting chancellor noted her emphasis for WCU on “things like being able to help people in rural areas” and from less wealthy areas. “I’m from a rural area” and she said her family was not upper-income.

“So a lot of what I was talking about (in the hearing) is that we have affordable education…. With Western (WCU), Asheville (UNCA) and so many others” — and, fortunately for the region, “people stay here and give back to the economy” as taxpayers.

“I was asking (during her testimony) that we make it simpler to get financial aid” for students. She added that she testified that, “without the support of my state, I wouldn’t be here. Without the support of my family, I wouldn’t be here... I thought I was going to be there for two and a half hours, but ended up being there for four hours.”

And a final detail she stressed in her testimony, she recalled, is “it’s not just the 18 to 24 year-olds, it’s those of all ages,” she said of higher education.”

Directing a comment to her fellow chancellor Cable, Morrison-Shetlar said, “So thank you for the shout out.” prompting a smile from Cable.

To the CIBO audience, she said, “I still can’t believe a little girl from Scotland ended up testifying before Congress.”

Speaking last was Nathan Pennington, Buncombe County’s planning director, who began by noting that when the idea of countywide zoning first was raised — “in December of 1981” —  I was five years old.” (His joke prompted laughter from the CIBO crowd.)

“It wasn’t until December of 2009 that you had countywide zoning, with the bulk of the area being open zoning...

“So in 2013-14, the General Assembly abolished the extra-terretorial jurisdiction (ETJs),” which affected only the localities of Asheville, Weaverville and Boone.

“The whole premise is you had to have countywide zoning... The planning staff had to scramble…  So that’s what we did.

“In April 2015, a common theme came about. The commissioners said staff please work on” the zoning regulation “to allow manufactured housing in R1-, R2 and Beaverdam.

“In 2018, the county approved manufactured housing in R1, R2 and Beaverdam

“We worked with the commissioners on standards for compatibility — 86 percent of the county already allowed manufactured housing. With these standards, it added another 10 percent.

“The standards included” that “it must have a HUD label... What we couldn’t do is only require new units....

“So we have these standards. Planning is a seesaw. Balancing the needs of our community and working with our commissioners,” Pennington said.

“We went to the commissioners on April 2, and you now can place a manufactured home in R1, R2 and Beaverdam.

“We’re going to go the extra mile to educate and really help,” he said in concluding his address. He then added, “250-4856 is my phone number — if you have any questions.”

During a question-and-answer session that followed, a man asked if the law applied to “single-wides or double-wides?”

“One of the requirements is it must be multi-sectional, (so) no single-wides,” Pennington replied.

In response to a question from CIBO member Mac Swicegood, Pennington said, “There is a standard guidebook from HUD. And the state building code. It could be piers. It’s all about that curtain wall. It’s all about the pier.”

To that, Swicegood asserted, “You’re also distinguishing between real estate and personal property.”

“You’re right,” Pennington answered.

A man asked about “the county-built park models for mobile homes.”

“Park models are RVs (recreational vehicles),” Pennington replied. “Thanks for bringing that up. They’re not manufactured homes. That especially happens with the tiny home shows. Those tend to be RVs as well. There are ways to buy smaller modular units.”

A man asserted, “It fills a gap for people with an income of $30,000 and $40,000…. or so.”

“Good point,” Pennington replied.

A man then asked the planner to “expand on affordable housing.”

“Commissioners (Brownie) Newman and (Amanda) Edwards, along with Commissioner (Joe) Belcher, are on the Affordable Housing Committee,” Pennington said. “So one of things we might want to consider is a smaller cottage development. We’d like to look for a way to take a smaller level development and not have those projects going to full commission for consideration.”

A man asked, “Do you have to return the title to the state? Can people set up park models?”

Pennington answered, “In some districts, we do offer the possibility of setting up an RV on their property while their home is being built.”



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