WCU, regional partners planning expanded Outdoor Economy Conference in Asheville

With its many miles of rivers to fish and other recreational opportunities such as hiking, cycling and paddling, the Western North Carolina mountains have long been known as a hotbed for outdoor recreation, but WCU and other members of the Growing Outdoors Partnership are hoping to take that part of the regional economy to the next level. Boosting the outdoor economy will be the focus of a conference set for Thursday, Oct. 10, in Asheville.

The second annual Outdoor Economy Conference is growing in size and scope this year, with representatives from Western Carolina University and the regional Growing Outdoors Partnership expecting participation to double to 500 attendees for the event coming up at Crowne Plaza Resort in Asheville on Thursday, Oct. 10.

Harnessing business opportunities available in the outdoor recreation industry and boosting the economy of Western North Carolina is the focus of the conference, which is designed to attract a diverse group of participants from companies and attractions, product manufacturers, chambers of commerce, workforce and economic development, parks and recreation, and public land management. Representatives from WCU and other area colleges and universities also are expected to attend along with staff from governmental agencies.

This year’s conference is focused on “Building an Outdoor Economy” and the four building blocks that are essential for outdoor recreation to be an economic driver – workforce development, branding and marketing, supply chains, and recreational assets and infrastructure.

Peter Metcalf

Among the morning activities will be a keynote address by Peter R. Metcalf, founder and former longtime CEO of Black Diamond Equipment. An active advocate and leader in state and federal policy formulation relative to public lands, recreation and quality-of-life issues, Metcalf is credited with having made Utah one of the nation’s primary centers for the outdoor and ski industries. Lunchtime remarks will be delivered by WCU Chancellor Kelli R. Brown, who went on duty as the university’s 12th chief executive officer July 1.

The conference includes a specialized track, “Building Thriving Outdoor Communities,” that is designed to help rural areas capitalize on their outdoor assets. It is directed at teams of three to eight local leaders who are focused on strengthening their communities through outdoor recreation. The track includes an opportunity for an additional half-day workshop on Friday, Oct. 11, at Sierra Nevada Brewing.

The event also offers an on-site Gear Expo featuring locally made products from member companies of the Outdoor Gear Builders of Western North Carolina, a coalition of more than 40 outdoors-based businesses.

This year’s conference is being organized by the Growing Outdoors Partnership, an initiative that includes more than a dozen nonprofits, businesses, governmental agencies and academic institutions, including WCU, that are working to expand the outdoor economy across 25 WNC counties.

WCU organized and hosted the inaugural Outdoor Economy Conference in October 2018, and the event was a sellout with more than 250 participants. This year’s conference was moved to Asheville to accommodate increased attendance, said Andy Coburn, a member of the university faculty who serves with fellow faculty member Wes Stone on the conference planning committee. Coburn and Stone are WCU’s faculty liaisons to the regional outdoor industry, and they, along with Arthur Salido, the university’s executive director of community and economic engagement and innovation, are WCU’s representatives for the Growing Outdoors Partnership.

The conference agenda and related information are available at https://outdooreconomy.org and tickets can be purchased at this website. WCU students, faculty and staff have an opportunity to attend the conference at significantly discounted rates. To unlock the special rates, faculty and staff should enter the promotional code OUTDOORPRO when registering online. Students should enter the code STUDENTDEAL when purchasing tickets and be prepared to show their student ID when checking in at the conference.

Members of the WCU community can find out more by contacting Coburn at acoburn@wcu.edu or Stone at wstone@wcu.edu.