Southwestern North Carolina’s ‘OPT-IN’ Visioning: Off and Running

May 17, 2013

SYLVA, NC – By the summer of 2014, North Carolina’s seven westernmost counties, the towns within and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians will have wrapped one of the most ambitious economic development, transportation, and environmental research efforts in the region’s history.

“The idea is to give elected officials, their staffs, and citizens the information they need for making critical decisions about infrastructure investments for decades to come,” said Ryan Sherby.

Sherby is executive director of the Southwestern North Carolina Planning and Economic Development Commission (Southwestern Commission), which is managing the effort on behalf of local governments.

The year-long research and strategy-evaluation process is called “Opt-In,” short for “Opportunity Initiative.” Besides stressing opportunity-focused goals, the Opt-In name emphasizes that this is an invitation — and not a mandate — to collaborate.

“We want to be clear from the outset,” said Sherby, “that the option to act or not to act on any of the work we do together is up to citizens and leaders. We work for them. Our job is to help them get what they need to make informed choices.”

A team of consultants headed by the Atlanta-based TSW firm will build on work already done in each of the local jurisdictions, search out additional data and best practices requested by citizens and leaders, then facilitate discussions that test alternative approaches to long-range goals. Additional staff support will come from North Carolina’s Appalachian Regional Commission Program. Out of the process will come: A consensus-driven Regional Vision, Comprehensive Plans for Cherokee and Graham Counties and a Comprehensive Transportation Plan for Graham County.

“Nothing,” said Sherby, “will protect our region’s traditions of independence and self-reliance more than understanding where future opportunities and challenges are likely to come from and what strategies are necessary to steer us — as a region and as individual counties and towns — in the right direction.”

For background information and more, see the project website:

Contact: Ben Brown, project communications director; 828.508.-5002