SYLVA – The board of the Southwestern Commission (Region A), which serves the seven westernmost counties in western North Carolina, voted on the evening of Tuesday, May 20 to endorse in principle the Regional Vision drafted during the 15-month Opt-In SWNC process. Next up, they have to hammer out specific strategies suggested by the Vision.
“This was an important, historic step in strengthening the voice of our region in conversations about the future at the state and national levels,” said Southwestern Commission executive director Ryan Sherby.
Key topics for those future conversations explored in the Vision: The protection and enhancement of the region’s natural and cultural assets; economic development; and transportation policy.
“The Regional Vision is not a mandate,” said Sherby. “But, because we’ve identified priorities together and begun the harder discussion about aligning policies with those priorities, we have a much better shot at controlling our own destinies in these mountain counties and towns.”
Opt-In SWNC, short for “Opportunity Initiative in Western North Carolina, has been a 15-month process to shape a collaborative Regional Vision and to draft county-level Comprehensive Plans for Graham and Cherokee Counties and a Comprehensive Transportation Plan for Graham County. The process was overseen by the Southwestern Commission and funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Federal Highways Administration and the North Carolina Department of Transportation. A consulting team was contracted to gather and analyze data, facilitate local conversations and shape document drafts in collaboration with the region’s citizens and leaders.
The Region A board’s endorsement on May 20 marked the end of the formal stages of the Opt-In process. Now, it’s up to the Southwestern Commission and the region’s elected leaders to decide how best to apply Opt-In recommendations, including the key recommendation to form an implementation committee of public and private entities to take the Vision forward.