N.C. commerce secretary discusses ‘economic health’ during visit

North Carolina Secretary of Commerce Sharon Decker shared some ingredients for boosting the “economic health” of the region surrounding Western Carolina University as she met with local and university leaders Thursday (Nov. 13) in the building that houses WCU’s health-related academic programs.

During a tour of Western North Carolina, Decker stopped by WCU’s Health and Human Sciences Building for a discussion with leaders representing Jackson County, Southwestern Community College, local municipalities and the university.

Decker spoke about her “five tenets of economic health” and said two of those, education and economic development, are intertwined. As an example of that, she cited the engineering program offered by WCU and other technology-related academic programs offered both at the university and at area community colleges. Those programs are the region’s “greatest recruiting tool” as it seeks to attract new industry, Decker said.

WCU expanded its existing undergraduate engineering program in Cullowhee to the economically robust Asheville-Hendersonville corridor this fall. The program is offered at the university’s instructional site at Biltmore Park, just off Interstate 26 south of Asheville.

“You need to shout it from the tops of these mountains that you don’t have to live in an urban center to have access to great research, great students and great talent,” Decker said.

Decker also reminded the gathering of leaders that “all economic development is local,” even though state government plays an important role in making policy and providing support.

“But, at the end of the day, if communities don’t take ownership of their futures, they will not have a bright future,” she said. “It’s about leaders like you meeting around the table and saying, ‘This is our community and we’re going to make a plan for it moving forward.’”

Other facets of economic health discussed included public health; arts, tourism and culture; and quality of life and environment.

During the meeting at WCU, Decker also heard about some of the economic development initiatives going on at WCU and SCC, and she participated in a tour of the clinic space in the Health and Human Sciences Building.

A new full-time primary care clinic in the building is the result of a partnership between WestCare Health and the university in which access to care will be expanded in the community and educational opportunities will be provided to health sciences students. The clinic opened in September, with an open house the day of Decker’s visit.

Welcoming North Carolina Secretary of Commerce Sharon Decker (second from left) to Jackson County are (from left) Don Tomas, president of Southwestern Community College, David O. Belcher, chancellor at WCU; and Chuck Wooten, Jackson County manager.

Welcoming North Carolina Secretary of Commerce Sharon Decker (second from left) to Jackson County are (from left) Don Tomas, president of Southwestern Community College; David O. Belcher, chancellor at WCU; and Chuck Wooten, Jackson County manager.