Editor’s note: Jim Roberts is the executive director of the Blue Ridge Entrepreneurial Council and the Blue Ridge Angel Investors Network.
ASHEVILLE, N.C. – If Asheville takes the title “The Santa Fe of the East”, then the mountain region has already achieved a sense of place that is authentic.
As the Asheville area becomes a magnet for wealthy people to build their dream homes in the southern mountains, how can we assure the current and future Asheville residents can afford to live in the region and keep the authentic sense of place?
Let’s be clear, I am not promoting that Asheville should, or is even capable of becoming the next Silicon Valley! If you don’t like the physical image of the city of San Jose, please replace San Jose with Austin, Seattle, etc. Asheville has very different assets and talent base than these more established research based economies.
Nor am I bashing the strong arts community of Santa Fe. Santa Fe experienced this economic migration and cultural change over the last 30 years as my wife experienced. And as Becky Anderson of Handmade in America said at the recent Leadership Asheville event, “This is the first time wealth is coming into Appalachia.” So I welcome our new friends in the mountains and truly hope to get them involved in the regional economy with their wide range of corporate experience. Of course, if a place is to be authentic, that place should not claim to be the “next Silicon Valley” or Austin, or Seattle. A region needs to promote that it is unique and has something special to offer different than regions that may have problems such as suburban sprawl.
I have configured this web page to compare all categories of quality of life with Asheville, San Jose, Santa Fe and the top ten places to live in the nation. This will show that the median family income in Santa Fe, NM is only $6,478 more than Asheville, yet the median house in Santa Fe is $112,290 more. And the housing prices in Asheville have risen by 19% from 2004-2005. (Need to have an increase in wages to match the increase in housing prices.)
Wanted: Good Companies Paying Good Wages
Western North Carolina must nurture and attract entrepreneurs into the region that will build companies that will pay salaries above the living wage. The emphasis must be much more on private sector support than public sector policy. Entrepreneurs move to regions where infrastructure is already in place and move away from places that do not support risk takers.
Did you know that 80% of the companies in Austin, TX take up less than 1,000 sq ft? That is four employees or less and it was ranked No. 1 place to do business by Forbes Magazine a few years ago. Austin was also ranked the number one place to be single, granted that is a bit skewed by the students of the University of Texas. And Microsoft has created 50,000 millionaires and Seattle is now the No. 1 magnet for people with college degrees. And did you know one-third of all companies started in Silicon Valley were by foreign born entrepreneurs? (Think Google!)
Here are successful stories about regions that appealed to entrepreneurs who had moved away from their hometowns. These entrepreneurs have added regional offices in their hometowns including Dell (think 1,500 jobs in Greensboro region), Google (adding big jobs in Ann Arbor, MI) and now a video game producer is adding jobs in Raleigh.
Dell Computer had a Senior Executive VP who went to Wake Forest, Google Founder is from Michigan, and two senior VPs of the video game producer coming to RTP spent time in North Carolina. (Google was co-founded in 1998 by Sergey Brin and Larry Page, a graduate of East Lansing High School and the University of Michigan.)
Who do you know that is from the region that could contribute to the economy of western North Carolina?
I am asking people to participate in a process where there is no “silver bullet”. Where we as a region can create, build and support emerging growth, knowledge based companies that want to be here. We have opportunities in our community to support the brilliant, but underemployed and under resourced people that have recently moved to our region attracted by the quality of place that they read about in the numerous tourism based magazine articles across the world. But the quality of place is just the magnet to get them to consider the region, not why emerging growth entrepreneurs choose a region at the end of the day!
True Quality of Life measurements must include a wide range of career opportunities. Please keep in mind that I am not saying we want to become San Jose with high cost of living to go with higher wages. Nor do we want to become Santa Fe with high cost of living with low wages.
Points To Ponder:
How can we achieve a high quality of life with higher wages in a region that is affordable for all?
What are the steps and public / private sector infrastructure necessary to create new companies and grow existing companies?
How do we take what seem people deem “science projects” into viable businesses that strive in our community and that future local college graduates will want to stay in the region and raise their families?
What does it take to create the first Dell Computer, Microsoft, Red Hat, Lending Tree success stories? How do we take BUILDERadius, Navigational Sciences, HomeGauge, Sylvan Sport, LabEscape, BeyondCargo, Drake Software, Immaculate Baking, eGlobal Design, Blue Ridge BioFuels, etc. to the next level of success?
Jim Roberts is the Founding Executive Director of the Blue Ridge Entrepreneurial Council and the Blue Ridge Angel Investors Network. BREC will host an event called “How can Asheville be more like San Jose than Santa Fe?” on August 17th with keynote speaker Donna Jensen-Madier, Founder of Vibrant Ventures in Chapel Hill. BREC will also host the 4th Annual Carolina Connect Entrepreneur and Capital Conference on September 14th in Asheville. See more information at www.ncmtns.biz