EDPNC CEO Christopher Chung

EDPNC CEO Christopher Chung speaks during the Dec. 15 roundtable.

BOONE — A roundtable was held Tuesday, Dec. 15 via Zoom featuring the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina and the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce to discuss economic challenges and opportunities in the Northwest region of North Carolina.

The roundtable was the seventh in a series of eight regional roundtables from the EDPNC, discussing the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and how North Carolina businesses can navigate it.

The roundtable was hosted by Boone Chamber President David Jackson and featured a host of EDPNC and N.C. business persons. EDPNC CEO Christopher Chung, Carolina Textile District Executive Director Sara Chester, Atriax Group Principal George Auten, NanoXplore Vice President John Kardos, EDPNC Vice President of Global Business Services John Loyack and EDPNC Existing Industry Expansions Manager for the Northwest Region Bill Slagle were on the call.

According to Chung, the EDPNC supports business in N.C. through a variety of ways, including tourism and bringing new businesses to the state.

“We are here in service of those companies that call N.C. home,” Chung said.

He said tourism is “behind where it normally would be,” adding that it was expected due to the pandemic. Chung added that businesses he had spoken to about moving to N.C. were typically still entering the state even under the circumstances.

Chung pointed to N.C. already having a good infrastructure and educational foundation for business growth. He mentioned Appalachian State University and a future North Carolina School of Science and Math campus in Morganton as being useful in drawing in businesses if they can find a potential relationship with the establishments. Chung added that the diversity in the industries of the Northwest region is especially strong, from the Christmas tree industry to an Apple data center in Catawba County.

“I’ve spent a lot of time in the Northwest region, the folks in Northwest N.C. have challenges, whether it’s worker availability or infrastructure,” Chung said. “There’s a very noticeable mindset to not look for someone from the outside to help, they look to fix things themselves. That’s great, but we want them to be aware of the resources we provide and that they’re available.”

Jackson agreed, noting the habits of people in the northwest to band together when times get tough.

“It’s in the DNA of people in Northwest N.C. to plow through,” Jackson said, jokingly mentioning walking to school uphill through snow both ways. “Because of that toughness, we are quick to partner.”

Slagle described the region as a “prosperity zone” when it comes to production, adding that there is still untapped potential in it.

Much of the roundtable discussion was about how businesses had gotten through the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and what they can learn from it.

Auten said the Atriax Group was in the process of creating a new headquarters when the pandemic arrived, but said the company was able to get through it.

“We were fortunate in that our tempo never changed,” Auten said. “Our challenge was having continuity so we could continue to serve our clients.”

He pointed to Slagle’s help through the EDPNC as a key factor.

“We were not very smart about the grant opportunities through EDPNC, Bill took us by the hand and walked us through that. I’d recommend every business do the same,” Auten said.

He noted his belief in learning from the pandemic, and using lessons from it moving forward.

“I think we will all have learned a considerable amount from all of this,” Auten said. “It will make us more resilient. I think it will likely make us more open to distanced employment. Where there’s chaos, there’s opportunities, and there’s been a lot of chaos in 2020.”

For more information about the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, visit www.edpnc.com.

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