Steps toward WCU-Dillsboro partnership continue with campus tour

The developing partnership between Western Carolina University and Dillsboro took another step forward recently as town merchants and leaders visited campus to tour campus laboratories and other facilities, and to find out how WCU students are engaged in assisting the region.

Accompanied by WCU Chancellor John Bardo and his wife, Deborah Bardo, about two dozen Dillsboro representatives began their visit with a general orientation session in the Admission Office. The group then proceeded to tour the Center for Applied Technology, Fine and Performing Arts Center, Center for Service Learning, the new Balsam Hall and other offices before gathering with university representatives for dinner at the Courtyard Dining Hall.

The tour on Monday, Nov. 30, was a follow-up to an October meeting held in Dillsboro during which the town’s residents and university administration, faculty and staff began discussing in detail what the university can do to help the municipality boost its tourism economy in light of the decision by Great Smoky Mountains Railroad to cease operations in the town.

Betty Farmer, professor of communication and special assistant to the chancellor for the Dillsboro project, said the Dillsboro merchants and leaders were invited to campus to give everyone involved “a chance to get to know each other a little better,” but also to give Dillsboro’s citizens a sense of the university’s capabilities in terms of the assistance it can offer the town.

The day after the tour, Janet Chinners, treasurer of the Dillsboro Merchants Association, said she and her husband John Chinners, the association’s incoming president, were impressed that WCU is finding “new and innovative ways of doing things,” and the couple is excited about that ingenuity being directed at making Dillsboro a stronger draw for visitors. The Chinners own the Dillsboro business Country Traditions.

“We were extremely impressed with the caliber of training the university is providing its students,” Janet Chinners said. “WCU is obviously doing a good job preparing them to go out in the workplace to compete for jobs.”

Farmer said the next step in the process of forming the partnership will be a meeting involving core groups of representatives from the town and university. In addition to Farmer, WCU’s representatives at that meeting will be Gibbs Knotts, head of the department of political science and public affairs, and Wendy Cagle, regional director of the Small Business and Technology Development Center.

Following that gathering, a written partnership proposal will be developed, Farmer said.

“Together, we will identify some clear, measurable and feasible objectives that can be accomplished in the next two years, and we also will identify some long-range goals,” she said. “We will present this proposal to the larger Dillsboro community early in the spring semester.”

Since their Nov. 30 visit to campus, Dillsboro officials also have indicated that they would like to host a tour of the town for WCU representatives, Farmer said.