Asheville, NC – Focusing on its Strengths


It’s rare to find an economic development handbook or guide that doesn’t proclaim “Focus on your strengths. ”  It is the unofficial motto of economic development. But somehow these unique strengths look strikingly familiar from city to city, like a game of economic development Mad Libs; the word “clusters” with a choose-your-surname – bio, green, tech, etc.  NLC’s new case study on Asheville, NC profiles a region trying to truly capitalize on its unique strengths.

Building off its abundant biodiversity, a history of homegrown remedies, and a tendency to embrace all things natural, the region is striving to help entrepreneurs create and manufacture natural products and supplements, food, and craft beverages.  To do this, the region is trying to create an “entrepreneurial ecosystem” that delivers a more seamless and supportive environment for entrepreneurs.

While region is not without challenges — for example, talent and financing — it presents a number of lessons learned for regions across the country:

  • Create incubators and other shared services that match an area’s strengths;
  • Have the right staff and partners involved in programs and coalition groups;
  • Do research on potential programs and visit other communities before implementing a new program at home;
  • Build partnerships and connections with various entrepreneurial and small business service providers versus duplicating services.

Check out the full case study for more details. For comments, questions, or to learn more about NLC’s economic development work – email me at

3 comments on “Asheville, NC – Focusing on its Strengths”

  1. It also helps that the Downtown association does a really good job of protecting the city center from outside company’s. There a only a small handfull of corporate retailers doing business in the downtown district. That realestate (though expensive) is populated by local businesses. It is the identity of our city to anyone that visits. Chilis and McDonalds and Red Lobster are here, just not in the city center.

  2. Erik – thank you so much for your thoughtful comments. I think you raise a number of good points especially the difficult position many cities find themselves in – as you say…both financially and mentally. Thanks again!

  3. You’re right, it does seem like the go-to playbook. Asheville seems like it is better positioned for entrepreneurs and incubators than most though. I think you have to have the right city that is open to new ideas and not afraid to fail. So many are caught in a “can’t lose” situation, both financially and mentally, that they ultimately lose out on new ideas and innovations.

    I think it’s sad that we have to really make it a focus to buy local, play to our strengths and try to be unique… it’s been there all along and should have led the way in the first place.

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