Over 160 local business leaders gathered at Appalachian Ski Mountain for the 3rd annual High Country Economic Kickoff Breakfast, co-hosted by the Boone Area and Blowing Rock Chambers of Commerce. The event was presented by PeakGroup.insure and further sponsorship support was provided by Caldwell Community College & Technical Institute and Skyline National Bank.
Dr. Harry Davis, North Carolina Bankers Association Professor of Banking and Economist, presented a summary of trends related to regional and nationwide economic growth, housing, employment, and education. He then predicted the current economic recovery period will continue through 2019 and into 2020.
“The economy is going to grow around 2.6% this year, down from the 3% over the last 12-months, but above the 2.3% levels that we saw before,” Davis stated. “The unemployment rates for the Nation and for North Carolina will remain at historically low levels. We are going to have greater wage and salary growth over the next 12-months because of the tightness of the labor market. And if these things do happen, which I think they will, it will be a real positive for housing. It may take a while to show up, maybe a few of months, but I think housing will mirror last year’s numbers, which showed to be a pretty good year. I think this year the housing market has the chance to be better based on these trends.”
Dr. Davis went on to predict Watauga County will experience similar trends in unemployment and wage growth as compared to 2018. He also added that North Carolina’s Gross State Product will continue to outperform the Nation’s Gross Domestic Product for the coming year.
Businesses seeking more efficient employee recruiting and training tools can take advantage of the Career Connections program offered by Caldwell Community College & Technical Institute.
“This program is designed to connect our students to careers and to connect our employers to our students,” said Dr. Mark Poarch, President of Caldwell Community College & Technical Institute. “We provide employers with a talent pipeline. We hear you and we know what your challenges are and we are trying to solve problems by providing you with well-trained ready-to-work applicants.”
Through the Career Connections program, employers can interact with CCC&TI students through on-campus interviews, job fairs, and by allowing students to visit their places of business. Students in the program can take advantage of services such as career advisement, employment search assistance, and work-based learning opportunities.
Other highlights of the event included a legislative update from Senator Deanna Ballard (NC Senate-45) and Representative Ray Russell (NC House-93). Both discussed early session agenda items and legislative priorities that will have a direct impact on the High Country and rural communities across the state.
The Boone Area Chamber of Commerce also announced its winners of the 2018 Business of the Year Awards during the breakfast kickoff.
The awards were sponsored by the Watauga County Economic Development Commission. Nominations were submitted by members of the Chamber’s Business Development committee, seeking to reward businesses who exhibited staying power, growth in sales and/or workforce, innovative products and services, strong response to adversity, contributions to community-oriented projects, and use of local resources.
The 2018 Watauga County Business of the Year Award winners are:
Small Business: Peabody’s Wine & Beer Merchants
Celebrating its 40th year in business, Peabody’s Wine & Beer Merchants continues to be a center point in the Highway 105 business district. Jeff Collins and his staff have made continual improvements to the interior and exterior of their facility, helping to create more event hosting opportunities while revisioning space to increase inventory.
Collins was a key advocate for the entire Highway 105 community during discussions with NCDOT regarding a proposed superstreet project in the corridor. He helped organize community listening sessions for affected business owners and residents and forged relationships with local and State officials to proactively pass along concerns about the proposed project.
Peabody’s was established in the High Country since 1978 and served four decades as one of the premier outlets for social and charity event support in the area.
Large Business: Blue Ridge Realty & Investments
Bill Aceto and Todd Rice are the Brokers and Managing Partners for Blue Ridge Realty & Investments, and their sister company Blue Ridge Professional Property Services which includes Boone High Country Rentals, High Country Resort Rentals, and Ashe Rental Agency. Combined, this is a full-service Real Estate company to include both sales and property management.
The sales division under Blue Ridge Realty & Investments has been in business for over 35 years, though in the last five years has expanded to include five offices locations across the High Country. Blue Ridge Realty & Investments in 2018 was #1 in sales for independent Real Estate Companies in the High Country (non-franchises ), and #1 overall in real estate listings. The company has successful results with over $100 million in total sales volume, and two Realtor Agents in the top 10 in overall sales within the High Country Association of Realtors.
The Real Estate organization as a combined force is one of the largest and most comprehensive in the region with over 50 Realtor agents and an additional 35+ employees. The group of agents and employees stays active with local civic organizations with members on Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs. The company also stays engaged with the Humane Society, Habitat for Humanity, Santa’s Toy Box, and local EMS.
This locally owned, locally operated real estate company has grown successfully as a result of technology, systems, partnerships, and the great people who are part of the organization team as agents and employees.
Startup Business: High Country Food Hub
The High Country Food Hub is an online market for local food and artisan goods. Operated by Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture, it features over 500 products from 50+ small-family farms and food entrepreneurs from Watauga and nine surrounding counties. Shoppers can easily support local farmers and food businesses from the comfort of their own homes by placing an online order year-round, every Thursday – Monday and pick up their ready-prepared local shopping baskets every Wednesday from the convenient location in Downtown Boone.
In 2018, High country Food Hub created an innovative, collaborative online platform for 62 local food businesses to reach new customers. In its first full year of operation, the online store processed over $100,000 in online sales of 775 local food items and artisan goods through the online farmers’ market in 2018 (compared to $26,000 in 2017).
The High Country Food Hub also provides valuable storage space to area farms, supplying 400 square feet of low-cost storage to increase production capacity of High Country farmers.
Over 160 attendees celebrated the honors during the 2019 High Country Economic Kickoff Breakfast. The event was co-hosted by the Boone Area and Blowing Rock Chambers of Commerce.
If you have questions, please contact the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce at 828-264-2225 or email [email protected].
Photos by Jan Todd, Deep Creek Photography