Western Carolina University founded the Conference in fall 2018, with a focus on serving and connecting *all* of the people and organizations who make up the broader outdoor economy, including businesses, nonprofits, community organizations, and supportive governmental & academic leaders in Western North Carolina and the surrounding area.
The Conference sold out with over 250 attendees in 2018, and is now being expanded to include over 500 people this year with the help of the Growing Outdoors Partnership, an initiative of over a dozen nonprofits, businesses, academic institutions, and government agencies working together to expand outdoor industry and build a thriving outdoor economy across 25 counties in Western North Carolina (WNC).
The goal of the Partnership is to provide a model for Appalachia, NC, and the broader Southeast of how rural and urban areas can work together to grow an economy whose benefits accrue to communities across the rural/urban divide; an economy in which people's livelihoods are intrinsically connected with environmental stewardship and quality of place.
To that end, this year’s Conference is focused on Building an Outdoor Economy, and on four key building blocks that are essential for outdoor recreation to be an economic driver:
Workforce Development: Ensuring that employers have the talent they need to succeed and expand, and that anyone who wants a job in the outdoor economy has the education and connectivity they need to get one.
Branding & Marketing: Expanding the outdoor industry’s brand identity to include Appalachian mountains, rivers, forests, and crags as part of its iconic imagery, and lifting up this region as the East Coast Hub for Outdoor Industry.
Supply Chains: Connecting outdoor industry brands with regional manufacturing partners, and helping regional manufacturers connect with outdoor brands to drive a new wave of US gear manufacturing in the Appalachian mountains.
Recreation Assets & Infrastructure: Recognizing the incredible bounty of outdoor places (assets) in our region – the foundation of our outdoor economy – and identifying infrastructure needs and opportunities.
These four building blocks will be the foundation of this year’s conference, with tracks and discussions centering around each of these, as well as their intersections with one another, and with communities and the environment.
The conference will take place on Thursday, October 10, 2019 at the Crowne Plaza Resort in Asheville, where we’ll be surrounded by ziplines, aerial adventure courses, and mountain bike tracks as we discuss how to grow the core elements of a regional outdoor economy. We hope you can join us and bring your own knowledge, experience, and connections to help make this year’s Outdoor Economy Conference a great success!