Weigh in on regional planning effort Oct. 10

Oct 05, 2013

Haywood County residents will have a chance to weigh in on a regional planning process at 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 10 in the Haywood County Regional High Technology Center Auditorium at 112 Industrial Park Dr. in Waynesville.

The session will focus on key questions such as, "How can we anticipate future opportunities for families and businesses in our mountain region?" and "How might we organize ourselves to make the most of them?"

The process kicks off a year-long exploration of the region’s capacities for improving communities’ economies and citizens’ quality of life in North Carolina’s seven westernmost counties and in lands owned by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

The effort, called Opt-In SWNC, which is short for Opportunity Initiative in Southwestern North Carolina, is moving into a public meeting phase.

“We want to test what we’ve learned so far about the region, its communities and its values with the real experts of the region,” says Bill Tunnell, founding principal of the Atlanta-based TSW planning and design firm and head of the Opt-In consulting team. Those experts? “The people who live and work here,” says Tunnell. “We’ll present what the data tells us and what we’ve heard in dozens and dozens of interviews and meetings. We’ll ask,  ‘Are we getting this right? What do we need to correct or adjust? Where do we need to dig deeper?’

“Then, once we have a baseline of agreement on the facts and on what values are most important for guiding decisions,” says Tunnell, “we’ll be able to offer options for pursuing long-range goals, both as a mountain region and as individual communities.”

By the end of May, 2014, working in collaboration with the leaders and citizens of the region, the Opt-In process will have produced a Regional Vision that asserts goals, values and broad strategies. Those agreed-upon goals, values and strategies will help decision-makers set priorities for long-range, infrastructure planning, including transportation infrastructure, and to better position the counties and towns for healthier economies and community life well into the 21st century.

The Opt-In effort is managed by the Southwestern Commission (www.regiona.org), whose board is made up of elected county and municipal leaders in Haywood, Jackson, Macon, Swain, Graham, Cherokee and Clay Counties. The Initiative is made possible by federal and state funds through the Federal Highway Administration, NC Department of Transportation and the Appalachian Regional Commission.

For more information: www.optinswnc.org