WEST JEFFERSON — A luncheon and roundtable discussion was held between members of the Ashe County Board of Commissioners and municipal officials on Feb. 3. at The Venue at Ashe County Chamber of Commerce to discuss current and future issues and activities of the towns.
A networking lunch was held from noon until 1 p.m., with the open discussion being from 1-3 p.m.
Phil Trew, director of planning at the High County Council of Governments facilitated the discussion.
Julie Wiggins, the director of the HCCOG, spoke about what the organization has been working on.
Wiggins shared information about the aging program and workforce development program.
She feels that since Ashe County, as well as the rest of the country has an aging population it is something that needs to be on the area’s radar. She also noted that the aging population and the hospital go hand-in-hand.
As far as workforce development, the shift has been more to the employer side instead of the employee side as was common in the past. People are now needed to fill these vacant jobs due to the great job market and economy.
Wiggins stated that there is funding for on-the-job training, paid internships, job fairs and youth opportunities.
Kitty Honeycutt, director of the Ashe County Chamber of Commerce, provided an update about some of the activities they have been involved in.
The Chamber has launched a virtual tour of Ashe County which can be accessed at their website at www.thecoolestcorner.com. The tour includes all of the towns as well as the arts and parks.
They are also working with Wilkes Community College on an entrepreneur collaborative, called Start Up Ashe, which will launch on March 12.
Honeycutt attended a communities workshop called Appalachian Gateway along with Jeff Fissel, Cathy Barr, Joe Shimel and Wesley Barker. They plan to do a mural project, which is brand new and they plan to acquire grant money for it and have 10 murals placed into state park locations.
Jeff Fissel, director of the Ashe County Arts Council, shared that he is open to discussion from anyone willing to share any knowledge about what their vision for the future of the arts council is.
“We have a hand in a lot of events, everything from the Fiddler’s Convention to the gallery crawls, studio tours and that list just kinda goes on and on. We’re very proud of having a hand in those events and making sure they continue to grow,” Fissel said.
N.C. Sen. Deanna Ballard was present at the meeting and mentioned multiple times her support of the arts. Ballard was especially vocal during the discussion of The Lost Province Center for the Cultural Arts project in Lansing.
Mayor Mack Powers along with Aldermen Matt Cordell and Jim Blevins were present to represent the town.
Powers shared information about the new businesses which came to town recently and the success of the St. Jude’s Fundraiser in the park that raised over $28,000.
Ballard requested an update about the project at the Old Lansing School and feels the biggest hurdle will be gaining ownership of the building but once that occurs it will open up the doors to the grant world of possibilities.
“I see a lot of potential and a lot of opportunity in Lansing. I would just encourage everyone to really continue to do what you can to what you can to even foster this neighboring town and really kind of strengthen it,” Ballard said.
The town of West Jefferson’s biggest topic of discussion was their recent plan to look into acquiring a grant for Wi-Fi downtown. They also would like to place more wayfiding signs, such as the black ones that are currently installed downtown, to help people locate certain businesses downtown.
Mayor Pro-Tempore John Reeves, town clerk Rebecca Eldreth and board of aldermen members Rusty Barr, Calvin Green, Stephen Shoemaker and Crystal Miller were present to represent the town of West Jefferson.
N.C. Rep. Ray Russell spoke about the possibilities of incorporating Airbnbs in the area since there are not a large number of hotels in the area. He expressed that this is especially an issue in the Big Horse Creek area since many people travel to the area for hiking and fishing.
He feels that it will benefit Lansing, which will in turn benefit the whole county.
Those who spoke on the topic were in agreement with Russell, however a big concern would be the possibility of being short-changed with occupancy taxes because it would be hard to keep up with who is doing what.
The discussion lasted for two hours and served as a successful tool for bringing the towns and their leaders together.
“My intentions for this structure, just a roundtable discussion, we had a planning meeting – our board did and something that we talked about we desired to create other lines of communication between the county and the towns,” McNeill said.