ASHEVILLE, N.C. (WRBL) — The Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce Intercity Leadership Conference moved into its second day Thursday.


Local business, political and civic leaders are in Asheville looking at the way that North Carolina city has progressed.

Part of Thursday’s focus today was on the challenges that Asheville faces. And some of the challenges will sound familiar to Columbus folks.

While much of Asheville is postcard perfect, this is not an image that you will see on the Asheville visitor guides, a homeless man downtown. It’s a problem Columbus faces as well.

Asheville has had trouble staffing its police department. Columbus knows that problem all too well.
There has been trouble building consensus in Asheville amid political divides.

About 100 Columbus leaders listened as several Asheville civic leaders talked about the challenges their communities face.

But one of the strongest statements came from Rodney Close, President, and CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Chattahoochee Valley.

Close is also the current chairman of the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce board.

Close dealt with the Columbus crime problem and in many cases the kids who are committing those crimes.
Listen to what Close told the group.

“What we are trying to do is cut a lot of kids off at this crossroads where they are trying to figure out what am I going to do, ‘am I going to go to the streets or am I going to focus on my education and what I want to do when I graduate from high school,” Close said. “So, we have to come up with a plan for these teenagers that really don’t know what they want to do. And we have got to figure out how we can guide them in the right direction. So, what we are dealing with in Columbus is whether they are going to go to gangs or whether they are going to do the right thing. That’s where we are.”

Columbus mayor Skip Henderson was struck by the fact that many of Asheville’s problems are ones Columbus and other cities face.

Henderson says some of Asheville’s challenges ring true in Columbus, as well.

TUESDAY’S COVERAGE

About 100 Columbus business, political and civic leaders depart Wednesday morning for an Intercity Leadership Conference sponsored by the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce.

The three-day trip will explore a number of issues from Asheville’s beer culture and how that translates into big business to how Asheville deals with its problems.

Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jerald Mitchell tells WRBL there is much to learn for city leaders this week.

WEDNESDAY’S COVERAGE

Wednesday was a day full of beer and art for nearly 100 Columbus business and civic leaders who embarked on the three-day leadership conference to Asheville.

But this is also about the business of making Columbus a more attractive place to live, work and play. 

Asheville is about half the size of Columbus, but the North Carolina city has become a tourist mecca and an outpost for beer and art. 

Beer is big business here, the second largest employer behind only the automotive sector.  

The Columbus group visited New Belgium Brewing Company, a Colorado-based brewer with a large Ashville facility. There are also a number of craft brewers in the area. 

They also toured a local arts district. 

Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jerald Mitchell says this is about much more than beer and quality art. And that was pointed out during the brewery visit. 

“It is tapping into something that is the core piece of the identity of the community,” Mitchell said. “And then building upon it. So, again, I thought that was a really good takeaway from the conversation at the New Belgium Brewing Company.” 

So if you are thinking about this as a beer run, you are missing the point.

“Correct. That’s exactly right,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell says that Asheville has created that kind of environment that attracts young professionals. 

Mitchell says it’s not about bringing the beer business to Columbus as much as it’s about finding a niche. 

“Beer is great and for this community, it’s been really big busines,” Mitchell said. “But I think the real key and two the points that were made earlier, you really have to think about two things. One is how do you create a place where people want to live. The cycle has changed where you don’t graduate college go find a job. You graduate college and find a place you want to live. Then the jobs coalesce around that workforce.” 

New Belgium General Manager Jay Richardson is familiar with Columbus. He was a consultant to Tom’s Foods in the 1990s. 

Here’s what he had to say about beer and business … 

“I just think about Asheville’s history with beer and even alcohol beverages,” Richardson said. “I think we’re learning that this is just a business take on something that was already special to this region. And although it’s been many years since I have been to Columbus, I am sure there is something that is already special to Columbus that business could take advantage of, business could make their own version of.”