Feb. 28, 2013. At the Feb. 4 Avery County Board of Commissioners meeting, Commissioner Glenn Johnson delivered one long speech that consisted of three separate statements. Below is the speech in its entirety. The speech is divided into three separate sections titled “The Great Divide,” “Looking to the Future,” and “The Business Incubator.”
By Glenn Johnson
THE GREAT DIVIDE
Avery County is a great place to live! Those that grew up here usually don’t desire to leave. Many have come here from other places for a variety of reasons. I hear many “locals” talk with disdain about our summer residents, our tourists, our skiers, etc. but where would we as “locals” be without them? This is a good time to pose the question “Who is local or native”? Webster defines native as “being the place or environment in which a person was born”. Another definition is “one of the people indigenous to a place, especially as distinguished from strangers, foreigners, colonizers, etc”.
Now I consider myself local or native to Avery County but if you have to be born here I wouldn’t qualify because I was born in Canton, Ohio. You see my parents were married in 1946 and moved to Ohio to find employment that was not available in Avery County, as did many other Avery Countians. This trend continues today. If you define native as someone indigenous to a place I suppose none of us would qualify. I assume only the American Indian or Native American would qualify.
What I’m trying to convey here is we all need to find a way to work together to make Avery County an even better place to live, work, and raise our families. Avery County is an aging population. Retired people are moving here and that’s great but we are losing our young people. They go away to college and do not return. Avery County High School was built for 1200 students. The highest occupancy was 1000; we now have less than 700. Where did they go? As with a church with a cemetery out back if no young people are coming in to that church eventually everyone is in that cemetery and the church doors are closed.
Getting back to the “Great Divide”, everyone that lives in Avery County, owns or rents a home here, pays taxes here, works here, shops here, or visits here contributes to what Avery County is and will be in the future.
What will Avery County look like 20, 40 or 50 years from now. I don’t think anyone knows but it will most certainly be different from today. We are in a constant process of change. It is our nature to resist change, but if everything around us changes and we do not, then we become stagnant and we continue to lose our young people. Albert Einstein said the definition of insanity is “continuing to do the same things the same way and expecting different results”.
As your elected County Commissioner it is my duty to carry out the day to day business of all the people of Avery County with no regard for your socioeconomic status, where you were born, or where you came here from. It’s not about “an us against them” mentality! It’s not about what part of Avery County you reside in! It is about working together to make Avery County an even better place and moving Avery County forward in the 21st century. As good a basketball player as Tommy Burleson was in college and the NBA, I believe he would tell us he never won a game by himself! It’s all about teamwork. Let’s put our differences aside and work together to get the job done. Let’s pull together instead of in the opposite direction. Let’s be Avery County Citizens united. As for me and my constituents on the Avery County Board of Commissioners “Let’s be about the people’s business”!
Looking to the Future
Avery County has changed through the years and must continue to change. At one time the little community of Cranberry was our center of commerce with a company store, company houses, a hotel, a post office, a railway running through, and plenty of jobs in the Cranberry Iron mines and what about the Tarheel Mica Company with 250 employees and 3 shifts with imports and exports. Times have changed.
When I was growing up we were growing certified seed potatoes as were many others. Then along came beans with two bean markets, one at Crossnore and the other on Smokey Straight just outside Newland. Look at them today. Times have changed!
Then along came cabbage, then ornamentals and then Christmas trees. With the drop in the price of Christmas trees, where are we going now? Some are starting to get in to “viticulture” or the growing of grapes for the production of wine. Now while I don’t drink alcohol or necessarily like the fact that this “seems” to be the direction or at the least “one” direction that Avery County is moving in, the fact remains that times are changing. A friend of my wife once said “if you live in Avery County you have to wear many hats”. I believe this to be true! Avery County people are known as survivors!
As we know Avery County has three economic drivers; agriculture/horticulture; tourism; and the second home industry. We are not conducive to heavy industry due to our lack of infrastructure. We are 50 miles from the nearest commercial airport, 30 miles from the nearest interstate highway, and we do not have availability of large tracts of low cost, easily accessible land.
We have to figure out how to expand on what we already have and at the same time explore those new ideas of what’s ahead for Avery County. Since small business employees 50% of all workers in the United States and since 44% of our total payroll comes from small business and over 50% of nonfarm GDP comes from small business maybe this is part of Avery County’s future or if you will “one of those hats that Avery County must wear”.
According to the “internet”, another of those huge changes that has come about in the last few years, 44% of small businesses survive but if you add the element of “business incubator” the survival rate rises to 87%. It does Avery County very little good for a small business to start up if it does not survive . So if we can double their chances of success then I believe we have accomplished something.
Now someone said to me that the county had no business spending money on economic development. Economic development has been defined as “the process by which a community creates, retains and reinvests wealth and improves the “quality of life” for its citizens. If I as a county commissioner am not about trying to improve the “quality of life, create jobs, keep our young people here, and move Avery County forward then I am not doing my job!
Let’s be about the people’s business!!!
The Business Incubator
The Avery County Economic Development Director and the Avery County Board of Commissioners have designated the old Banner Elk School as a business incubator. The Town of Banner Elk has zoned the same as medical/educational. Any business occupying the business incubator must meet this criteria! Two letters of intent have been signed, one for a bicycle shop and one for a micro-brewery. This came about through much hard work and dialogue between the Banner Elk town board, planning board, and our economic development director. Through consensus of 5 duly elected county commissioners we all agreed. Four of those remain on your Board of Commissioners today! It has already been decided!
The term “business incubator” was new to me until recently but they have been around for over 50 years. “Business incubators are programs designed to support successful development of entrepreneurial companies through an array of business support resources and services, developed by incubator management and offered both in the incubator and through its network of contacts” ; in this case, Mayland Community College and Lees McRae College. The whole idea as I stated before is to increase the likelihood of success from 44% to 87%. There are at least 33 business incubators in North Carolina in 26 counties. One of the more successful is in Siler City. It centers around the arts. Now we already have Handmade in America interested in coming to the AC PRIDE. Think of what this could do for our local artisans and craftsmen; providing space to display and sell their work. Each business coming in to the incubator will be paying rent to Avery County and each business must “build out” their own space!
While we should never forget about our past, our heritage, or where we came from, we must look to the future and have a vision of where we are going. Proverbs 29:18 says “Where there is no vision the people perish.” Ronald Reagan in his inaugural speech said “In these economic times there are those that say we need to look to our past. As Americans we are not given to looking backward. In this blessed land there is always a better tomorrow.”
I believe the majority of your Board of County Commissioners has that vision for Avery County. We must look to the future for the sake of our children and grandchildren!
Now you might ask “how can Glenn Johnson be against a referendum to put county wide beer and wine on the ballot and be for a micro-brewery in the business incubator”?
My position is we are not expanding the sale of beer. It is already available within a stones throw in all directions of the business incubator. It was obvious to me on the previous issue that the majority of people in our rural area did not want package stores in their neighborhoods. It is also obvious to me that the Town of Banner Elk does since they voted it in and approved the business incubator and the brewery.
Beer is already being trucked in from who knows where, made in distant cities and in some cases in foreign countries. So since the business incubator is about job creation and bringing in more tax dollars via business taxes, sales tax and tourist dollars why would anyone be against that. I am not necessarily a proponent of the brewery as was stated in a local newspaper but I am a proponent of economic development in this county and in so doing creating jobs and a better quality of life for our citizens especially our young people who are our future. If we continue to do the same things the same way we will continue to get the same results. Let’s think outside the box! Let’s be about the people’s business!