Womble Carlyle Sandridge Rice, the state’s largest law firm, is heeding the word of Horace Greeley: “Go West, young man, go west.”

The firm has opened an office in Asheville, located in Biltmore Park, and is the first premier sponsor for the Mountain Council for Entrepreneurial Development (MCED). MCED was formed earlier this year and is encouraging entrepreneurship in the region through education, mentoring and networking, communications and capital formation.

“We want to do whatever we can to help the entrepreneurs in the area successfully launch their businesses,” says Womble Carlyle attorney Ashe Lockhart. “We intend to offer legal services not now available to emerging growth companies in western North Carolina.”

Lockhart, whose practice focuses on corporate work and technical transactions, played a key role in his firm’s MCED sponsorship. He is a friend of MCED Executive Director Jim Roberts, who founded firstround.org in Charlotte and who had expanded its efforts into the Asheville area. Roberts is also executive director of the Blue Ridge Angel Investment Network (BRAIN), and Lockhart was a presenter at its first meeting.

The Asheville law office will be staffed by western North Carolina native Chris Derrick and other regional attorneys. Lockhart, who spends about a day a month in the Asheville area, says other attorneys will use it as a base to see clients and develop new business.

Asheville a rising star

“Asheville has the potential to be a very strong market and to become a boutique emerging growth company environment,” Lockhart says. “It’s got a great lifestyle, it’s one of the most beautiful places in the country to live, and it’s got interesting people and an artsy, creative culture.”

The Charlotte-based accounting firm Grant Thornton has also agreed to be premier sponsor for MCED, which is patterned after the highly-successful Council for Entrepreneurial Development, based in RTP.

MCED’s next meeting is Tuesday, Nov. 19, 5:30 p.m., at the Asheville Comedy Club. Cost, including a light meal, is $15. To RSVP, or for more information, contact Roberts at jroberts@awnc.org or at 828-273-9862.