A conference at Western Carolina University on Friday, Oct. 7, will focus on the intersection of the environment and the economy in Western North Carolina.
The latest in a series of LEAD:WNC conferences sponsored by WCU, the event will be held in the Grandroom of A.K. Hinds University Center beginning at 10 a.m. and concluding by 4 p.m.
Titled “Advancing our Economy, Preserving our Environment,” the conference is expected to attract elected and appointed government officials, members of tourism and economic development organizations and chambers of commerce, and representatives of regional businesses and industries.
“This conference will bring leaders from across the region together to collaborate on ideas and solutions to grow our economy while also preserving our natural environment,” said Steve Morse, director of WCU’s Hospitality and Tourism Program and one of the event organizers. “We will discuss issues surrounding business and industry, including the growth of outdoor tourism, in balance with our region’s outstanding natural resources and the environment, all with the aim of building regional success.”
Conference attendees will hear from experts in the tourism, manufacturing, health, education and creative arts sectors, with subsequent sessions on the outdoor recreation economy, social entrepreneurship, creative place-making and transportation.
Scheduled speakers include Steve Watson, chief financial officer for the Biltmore Company; Heather Gates, director of the WNC Health Network; Timm Muth, project director of Jackson County’s Green Energy Park; Lauren Bishop, WCU’s chief sustainability officer; Lane Perry, director of WCU’s Center for Service Learning; George Brown, dean of WCU’s College of Fine and Performing Arts; and Garratt Artz, executive director of RiverLink.
The conference will conclude with a session on “Issues Affecting the Outdoor Tourism Economy and the Environment” led by WCU’s Morse. Panelists will include David Brown, executive director of the America Outdoors Association; Mark Singleton, executive director of American Whitewater; Sutton Bacon, chief executive officer of Nantahala Outdoor Center; Andrew Bobilya, director of WCU’s Parks and Recreation Management Program; and Mike Wilkins, head ranger for Nantahala National Forest.
The conference is part of a series of spin-off events from the inaugural LEAD:WNC, a one-day summit convened in 2014 by WCU to discuss solutions leading to sustainable economic and community development. 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.
Cost of attendance at the conference is $29 (including lunch) through Friday, Sept. 23, and $50 after Sept. 23. Registration begins at 8 a.m.