Each year the Asheville Chamber travels to Raleigh to share the business voice of Western North Carolina with members of the NC General Assembly and key influencers.
This year’s trip took place June 5-6 in conjunction with seven other Chambers in the region.
An itinerary that included a legislative reception, political strategist debate, and various leadership discussions, allowed the Chambers to vocalize their opinions on the North Carolina budget bill, and has yielded positive results.
“Although Governor Roy Cooper vetoed this budget, we predict the Republican supermajority will override the veto within the month and pass the budget,” says Asheville Chamber VP of Public Policy Corey Atkins. “We are pleased with the incremental changes in economic development policies, as well as the pay raises for teachers.”
On the economic development front, the Job Development Investment Grant (JDIG) is set to raise its cap from $20M to $35M, which will provide the Economic Development Coalition (EDC) team with more resources to recruit new companies and help existing ones expand.
The budget also intends on removing two adjustment factors for the upcoming County Tier Designations that have historically skewed the rankings of economic well-being in the state. With this more straightforward calculation, the Chamber hopes to see neighboring areas like Haywood County more fairly assessed, and in turn, benefit from increased access to economic resources, forging greater regional prosperity.
The raise in teacher pay is seen as another element of progress. The present bill offers an average raise of 6.5% for teachers and increases overall public education spending by $700 million, in addition to raising the minimum salary for thousands of low-income state employees to $31,200, the equivalent of $15 an hour, according to the Associated Press.
“Education is critical to workforce and talent development,” said Atkins. “As a state, we want to attract talented educators and having higher salaries helps that significantly.”
Notable events from the weekend include the legislative reception (attended by 11 legislators), and discussions with the Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson, the new Outdoor Industry Director David Knight, and the Deputy Secretary of Human Health and Services Mark Benton.
“Lots of legislative receptions but this is one of the best when the western NC legislators meet business, education and government leaders from our mountain districts,” tweeted Representative Chuck McGrady (R-Henderson).
“We found much inspiration from the Superintendent, and share a similar perspective towards education, especially in regards to the importance of early childhood literacy and facilitating trade skills,” said Kit Cramer, President and CEO of the Asheville Chamber.
“North Carolina is the 6th largest outdoor recreation economy in the country. It’s important for us to advocate for that,” added Atkins. “We also learned invaluable strategies for addressing the opioid epidemic, particularly in the workplace.”
Cramer is thrilled with the ever-growing strength of regional Chamber partnerships and noted that this is the largest group of Chamber delegates traveling together since she’s been here.
“This represents an ongoing effort to build partnerships with counties throughout the region, which strengthens the entirety of Western North Carolina,” she said.
“As a region we have a lot of things in common that are impacted by the budget,” added Atkins. “Education, healthcare, and taxes are all issues we can work together to solve.”