WHY WNC

Accelerating Outdoors

Outdoor Recreation Powering Economic Recovery & Growth Across WNC

Western North Carolina’s outdoor economy is getting a huge boost from a new $3M investment designed to drive community and economic development by leveraging the region’s extraordinary outdoor recreation assets and rich manufacturing heritage

For the last 8 years, members of the Growing Outdoors Partnership have been collaborating to grow WNC’s outdoor economy. Starting with the founding of the Outdoor Gear Builders in 2013, outdoor industry companies have been working hand in hand with economic developers, community leaders, tourism partners, educational institutions, and conservation organizations to support the growth of an economy that cares for our people and places. This outdoor economy draws from deep roots; the region’s famous craft traditions, its manufacturing prowess, and the mountain landscapes that are the cradle of modern forestry in America.

Building on these extraordinary assets, the Growing Outdoors Partnership was formed in 2018 to channel these collective energies and drive outdoor recreation jobs and investment. Three years later, these efforts have far exceeded expectations, garnering over $10 Million in investment and creating or retaining 426.5 jobs; more than doubling the membership of the Outdoor Gear Builders to 70+ companies; launching new outdoor recreation degree and certificate programs at our regional universities and community colleges; and developing an Outdoor Economy Conference where people from 33 states and 5 countries have gathered to learn and share the “how” of outdoor-driven community and economic development.

Now, with support from the Appalachian Regional Commission’s POWER program as well as the Dogwood Health Trust, the Growing Outdoors Partnership has embarked on an ambitious new three-year program designed to grow the region’s outdoor communities and companies, care for its lands and people, and cement Western North Carolina’s reputation as the Outdoor Industry Hub of the East.

This new project is rooted in the lessons learned over the past eight years, and led by a team with decades of experience in outdoor recreation community activation, entrepreneurial support, industry recruitment and expansion, workforce development, and brand growth. Its three pillars – Building Vibrant Outdoor Communities, Driving Outdoor Industry Expansion, and Increasing Market Access – all support one another, and are the foundations of a larger body of work: creating an economy that inherently incentivizes stewardship of our lands and waters as well as the health of our people.

Whether you are from here, or got here as fast as you can, so long as this vision excites you, we look forward to working with you to grow a vibrant and inclusive outdoor economy. Read on for more info about each of our pillars of work, the organizations behind these efforts, and four key opportunities you can capitalize on to get engaged right now!


three pillars

Building Vibrant Outdoor Communities

Over the past three years, every one of our 25 counties has sent at least one community team through “Building Outdoor Communities” workshops held at the Outdoor Economy Conference each October. Numerous communities have expressed strong need and demand for us to turn this annual workshop into a full-fledged program. Building Outdoor Communities is designed to build capacity in every single WNC county, and develop a replicable model for equitable outdoor community assessment and investment, so that our communities have the infrastructure and programs needed to capitalize on their extraordinary outdoor assets and be better prepared for new outdoor business development, small scale manufacturing, business recruitment and expansion, and increased visitation.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has some exciting projects in the works. The next phase of this initiative is going to be tremendously useful in helping us grow our outdoor recreation access and economy for the betterment of our community, and the health and quality of life of our Tribal Citizens.”

Principal Chief Richard Sneed, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians

Driving Outdoor Industry Expansion

With a huge wave of new demand from people heading outdoors due to COVID, outdoor recreation companies are growing at a record pace, and business starts are at an all-time high. The Outdoor Industry Expansion pillar builds on our existing regional outdoor industry association, the Outdoor Gear Builders of WNC, and the Waypoint Accelerator (the only outdoor industry accelerator east of the Rockies), to extend the capacity of our local companies and entrepreneurs; provide capital access and technical assistance to drive job growth and new investments; strengthen the entrepreneurial ecosystem; and bolster workforce development to ensure that we have talented and diverse people to staff this growing sector.

“We’re glad we moved to a community where companies are working and growing together, and are excited to keep expanding with this assistance.”

David Billstrom, CEO, Kitsbow

Increasing Market Access

The final pillar of our approach is centered on lifting up WNC nationally and internationally through collective marketing and storytelling in order to increase market access for our outdoor recreation companies and rural communities. This pillar builds on the recent launch of the new WNC Made By Mountains regional outdoor brand already being leveraged by economic development, chambers of commerce, tourism, outdoor industry, conservation, education, and regional + national media/content creators. This effort, along with the Outdoor Economy Conference, the Outdoor Gear Builders, the Waypoint Accelerator, and supporting the growth of over two dozen world class outdoor communities, will establish and communicate Western North Carolina’s competitive advantages for outdoor industry investment and experiences.

Our partnership has enabled Mitchell County to launch our outdoor recreation planning process. We’re excited to leverage these new resources to promote and market our rural county’s incredible outdoor opportunities to a national audience.”

– Patti Jensen, Executive Director, Mitchell County Chamber of Commerce

With Support From…

Meet the Partners!

The Growing Outdoors Partnership

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