WEST JEFFERSON-As Ashe Vision prepares to outline its next steps and host its strategic summit later this fall, the group unveiled the full breakdown on the community meetings it hosted in June.
The document, dated July 22, was released to the public last week. Readers can download the full eight page report at jeffersonpost.com
Compiled with feedback from four community meetings hosted by Ashe Vision leadership in June, the report is a succinct snapshot of what Ashe County’s residents believe we do well, where we come up short and what we ought to focus on going forward.
So what are the strengths Ashe County can fall back on?
According to many of the responses at the community meetings held at each of the county’s three elementary schools – and another session for business leaders at American Emergency Vehicles – Ashe County is home to a strong educational system, offers a business friendly climate, friendly people that can work well together and can offer residents an outstanding quality of life.
Healthcare offerings and strong grassroots leadership were also listed among our local strengths.
Problem areas outlined in the report include an inability to attract or retain young people, a lack of available infrastructure or access to capital, entry level jobs simply don’t pay enough compared to the rest of North Carolina and the skill sets of our citizens don’t match the skills local employers need.
Other challenges include a “cycle of poverty,” a lack of affordable housing and an aging population, along with a lack of branding and the perception of mountain people by those from outside the area.
What is ‘Ashe Vision,’ anyway?
Ashe Vision officially got off the ground little more than a year ago, according to the group’s president Josh Roten, but the group can trace its roots back farther to a pep talk given by Blue Ridge Electric CEO and Doug Johnson at a chamber of commerce luncheon in March 2014.
Johnson reflected on the success Caldwell County has enjoyed in recent years thanks to its own strategic planning process and reminded leaders that Ashe must create its own opportunities to grow, listing the New River, Wilkes Community College, the Blue Ridge Parkway and our friendly, caring and reliable citizens among our greatest assets.
The group launched informally with just a handful of members in the months following Johnson’s remarks, but officially formed Ashe Vision last spring with a 21-member board, according to Roten.
That board’s membership now reads like a virtual Who’s Who of local leaders and includes Roten, Ashe Vision Vice President Michael Lea, Bob Washburn as treasurer, Kay Sexton as secretary, along with Greg Warmuth, Sam Yearick, Chris Robinson, Carolyn Shepherd, Scott Turnmyre, Brantley Price, Edward Hinson, Patricia Calloway, Gary Brown, Laura Lambeth, Jane Lonon, Cathy Barr, Jimmy Blevins, Perry Miller, Alan Merck, Phyllis Yates and Cabot Hamilton.
The group hired Chris Aycock, the president of Raleigh-based consulting firm The Aycock Group, to help develop the overall plan for Ashe Vision and to help lead the group through its community meeting sessions which kicked off this summer.
Where do we go next?
Ashe Vision is still an effort that’s in its early stages, according to previous interviews with Aycock.
The assessment phase is a kind of data gathering effort that’s meant to inform the rest of the Ashe Vision process.
Aycock said the group will take the data gathered from the community and business meeting, and combine that with a comprehensive demographic breakdown from the High Country Council of Governments and face-to-face interviews with business leaders, lenders and Realtors to produce a detailed look at where Ashe County is right now.
According to Roten, later this fall Ashe Vision will host a “community summit. That meeting will be open to the public and is designed to help determine Ashe Vision’s most important strategic goals. The group will then outline its strategic priorities and create action teams that will meet monthly to make sure those goals are accomplished.
No date has yet been set for the community summit, according to Ashe Vision leadership.
Reach Adam Orr at 336-489-3058.