Western North Carolina’s flourishing outdoor industry will be the focus of a conference at Western Carolina University that will bring together area business owners, entrepreneurs, service providers and industry leadership to discuss topics such as product development, workforce development, marketing, financing and stewardship of natural resources.
WCU’s inaugural Outdoor Economy Conference is set for 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 5, at the university’s A.K. Hinds University Center.
The day’s activities will kick off with check-in, registration and a continental breakfast from 8 to 8:45 a.m., followed by a welcome by Arthur Salido, WCU’s executive director of community and economic engagement and innovation. The event keynote address at 9:15 a.m. will feature Peter Ripmaster, an ultramarathoner from Asheville who won the running division at the 1,000-mile Iditarod Trail Invitational in Alaska last March.
A panel discussion will take place from 9:45 to 10:45 a.m. with regional business owners talking about how they started and grew their operations, and a second panel discussion is set for 11:15 a.m. until noon with gear design and manufacturing as the topic.
A lunch break will be followed by a 1 p.m. address by David Knight, outdoor industry recruitment director for the N.C. Department of Commerce. Since last January, Knight has been leading efforts to promote the state’s outdoor recreation economy and recruit related businesses through the newly established N.C. Outdoor Recreation Industry Office.
Concurrent breakout sessions offered in the afternoon will address workforce development and education, access to capital, marketing and promotion, and stewardship of public lands and rivers. Salido will talk about upcoming outdoor initiatives at WCU during his closing remarks at 3:45 p.m., and a reception set for 4 to 5:30 p.m. will be sponsored by Innovation Brewing of Sylva.
An expo will be held from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m. featuring representatives of area community colleges, nonprofits and other organizations that support the outdoor industry.
In collaboration with the Outdoor Economy Conference, a group of student entrepreneurs will pitch their outdoor-themed product or service ideas at the fourth annual Student Entrepreneur Pitch Competition hosted by WCU EPIC Innovation from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 4, in the University Center theater.
Early registration for the conference is available for a reduced cost of $99 through Friday, Aug. 31, and registration is $159 thereafter. Students can attend the conference for $39.