ARC is hitting the road to further showcase the five goals of our 2022-2026 strategic plan – Appalachia Envisioned – and stop #2 on the roadshow will focus on building regional culture and tourism. This event will feature governors, tourism pros, and community members from North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia who are excited to share their experiences preserving and investing in the Region’s culture and natural assets that help strengthen Appalachia’s community and economic development potential.
Preserving and Promoting Appalachia’s Culture and Tourism
Mayor Lynda Sossamon welcomes us to Sylva, North Carolina for an engaging opening session featuring a discussion about regional culture and tourism between ARC Federal Co-Chair Gayle Manchin, Governor Roy Cooper of North Carolina, Governor Bill Lee of Tennessee, and Governor Jim Justice of West Virginia.
Gayle Conelly Manchin was sworn in as the Appalachian Regional Commission’s thirteenth federal co-chair on May 6, 2021, becoming the first ARC federal co-chair from West Virginia. Nominated by President Biden, Manchin works directly with ARC’s 13 member governors, their state alternates and program managers, and a network of local development districts to continue to build community capacity and strengthen economic growth throughout Appalachia. An alumna of West Virginia University, Manchin worked as an educator in Marion County Schools, served on the faculty of Fairmont State University, and was the director of the university’s first Community Service Learning Program. She directed the AmeriCorps Promise Fellows in West Virginia between 2000-2004 and implemented a statewide initiative, WV Partnerships to Assure Student Success. Manchin previously served as West Virginia’s First Lady between 2005-2010 and was appointed to serve as a member of the State Board of Education, serving her last two years as president. She was the chair of the Board for Reconnecting McDowell, Inc., an AFT initiative serving rural West Virginia, is a past president of the Vandalia Rotary Club of Charleston, and was an emeritus member of The Education Alliance. She also served as cabinet secretary for the West Virginia Office of Education and the Arts.
Governor Roy Cooper was sworn in as North Carolina’s 75th Governor in January 2017 with three decades in public service protecting families, keeping communities safe, and working to create jobs and improve schools. As the son of a school teacher, education and workforce development are among his top priorities. With a law degree from University of North Carolina, Roy Cooper was first elected to the State Legislature in 1986 and served as both a House Representative and State Senator. During his time in the Legislature, Cooper worked with members of both parties to get balanced budgets that raised North Carolina’s teacher pay to the national average, grow the economy, and cut taxes for middle class families. In 2000, Cooper was elected to serve as North Carolina’s Attorney General, where he continued to fight for families during his four terms. He worked to increase penalties for drug dealers, oversaw a sharp decrease in crime, and partnered with law enforcement and school administrators to make schools safer. He also made protecting consumers a priority, fighting to keep utility rates low, put predatory lenders out of business, and help families fend off telemarketers. Governor Cooper grew up on a farm in rural North Carolina. In addition to graduating from UNC’s Law School, Cooper also attended UNC for his undergraduate degree on a Morehead Scholarship, the first merit scholarship established in the United States. He has also taught Sunday School, served as an elder and deacon in his church, and tutored students in local schools.
Elected in 2018, Bill Lee was sworn in as the 50th Governor of Tennessee on January 19, 2019. A seventh-generation Tennessean, Lee went to Auburn University, where he studied Mechanical Engineering. When he graduated, he joined the Lee Company, a business his grandfather started in 1944. He held several roles at Lee Company before becoming President in 1992 and being named “Most Admired CEO” by the Nashville Business Journal in 2015. Lee Company was also chosen by The Tennessean as the best large company to work for three years in a row. As Governor, Lee is focused on several priorities including expanding vocational education in our state, supporting rural areas, growing the agricultural economy, and addressing the opioid epidemic.
Governor Justice is a native of Raleigh County, West Virginia. After graduating from high school, he attended Greenbrier Military School and then earned both his bachelor’s degree and his M.B.A. from Marshall University. He joined his family’s agriculture business in 1976, and in 1977 founded Bluestone Farms (now Justice Family Farms, LLC) in Monroe County, growing it into the leading producer of grain on the East Coast. During that time, he also developed Stoney Brook Plantation, a 15,000-acre hunting and fishing preserve in Monroe County. In 1993, Justice became the president of Bluestone Industries and Bluestone Coal Corporation. Over the next two decades he led the expansion of multiple businesses, becoming president and chief executive officer of more than 100 companies, including the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs. He is a longtime supporter of a range of youth programs in southern West Virginia. Justice was elected West Virginia’s 36th governor in November 2016.
Lynda Sossamon has served as Mayor of Sylva, NC since 2015. Before taking her current office, she served an 8-year tenure as Town Commissioner, with two years as the town’s Vice Mayor. In addition to her mayoral duties, she currently serves on the NC League of Municipalities Board of Directors. She has also served as board member and chair of the local water and sewer authority. Sossamon first became interested in town government in 1993, when she noticed a need for revitalization in her town. She was a founding member of Sylva Partners in Renewal, an organization of business and community members that helped grow the development of downtown Sylva, and worked with town leaders to get Sylva designated as a NC Main Street Town in 1995—the smallest town in North Carolina to receive the designation. Sossamon says she is dedicated to the work of making Sylva the best little town in North Carolina.
Connecting Culture and Tourism to Local Economies
This community-focused session will kick off with a video highlighting Appalachian North Carolina and the work its communities are doing to preserve and invest in the region’s culture and natural assets. Through a number of mini-panel conversations, experts from North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia will also share their experiences and successes in building regional culture and tourism throughout Appalachia.
Nick Breedlove serves as the Executive Director of the Jackson County Tourism Development Authority. Located an hour west of Asheville, the county is comprised of Cashiers, Sylva, Dillsboro, and Cullowhee. The JCTDA leverages a million dollar budget to generate $292 million in visitor spending a year. Under Breedlove’s leadership, the JCTDA was awarded the coveted Tourism Office of the Year designation by the Southeast Tourism Society. Breedlove received the Travel and Tourism Research Association’s nationwide award for ‘Rising Star’ in the Tourism Research field. Breedlove received his Travel Marketing Professional certification along with the highly sought after Certified Destination Management Executive credential. He is certified in Crisis Management, Communications and Recovery Strategy for DMOs. He recently received the first Certified Destination Travel Professional credential through Travel Unity to encourage Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in all Destination efforts.
Brenda Anders is the president of a unique arts and crafts gallery known as Dogwood Crafters in Dillsboro, North Carolina. A craft cooperative since 1976, Dogwood showcases the handmade treasures created by regional artisans.
Dale Collins is a co-owner of Tuckaseegee Fly Shop in three locations across Western North Carolina. Dale’s fly-fishing story began in 2001 when he was enrolled at Western Carolina University. After a short career in teaching and coaching, Dale began sharing the beautiful waters of Western North Carolina with others. He opened Tuckaseegee Fly Shop in 2014 with his friend Bobby Bennett. When not on the water or in the shop, Dale can be found spending time with his wife and two outdoor loving kids.
Adam Gelbaugh grew up playing in and paddling on the Kalamazoo River through Plainwell, Michigan. Adam paddled many Michigan rivers and some big lakes too. Along the way, he met a friend who introduced him to the Chattooga River in South Carolina, where he met his bride Mary. He was hooked on whitewater and hasn’t left the southeast since. Over the last 15 years, he has guided commercial raft trips on the Chattooga, French Broad, Nantahala, Ocoee, Cheoah, Tuckasegee, Nolichucky, and Pigeon Rivers. Now, Adam enjoys sharing the waters with all of you at the Dillsboro River Company.
Native to Sylva, North Carolina, Mary Gelbaugh’s first memories on the river began on the Tuckasegee River in a canoe with her parents and older brother. Her interest in paddling led her to the Nantahala Outdoor Center where she enjoyed over a decade of employment in all facets of the industry, meeting lots of great folks, including her husband Adam. Mary explored the west in the migratory winter settling permanently in Sylva. Along the way, she earned degrees in Parks and Rec and Holistic Nutrition. Her interest in natural health led her to joining the team at Wilson Family Chiropractic in 2009. When she’s not helping to get folks straightened out, Mary can be found at the Dillsboro River Company helping you get out on the water!
Cole Johnson is a Professional Glass Artist at the Green Energy Park in Dillsboro, North Carolina. Cole brings a huge amount of passion along with his artwork. He began his journey into hot glass as a freshman at Western Carolina University and has since put in hundreds of hours training and practicing as he seeks to perfect his glassblowing skills. Cole enjoys working on colorful vases, cups and bowls as well as abstract art pieces, and loves to share his newfound passion with others. Cole loves experimenting and having fun with the material. He plans to continue his education and pursue a master’s degree in glass.
Timm Muth is the Project Director of the Green Energy Park in Dillsboro, North Carolina. With over 30 years’ experience in the energy industry, Timm has helped design and manage nuclear facilities, fossil fuel stations, hydropower, solar and wind power installations, and biomass resources such as landfill gas. Timm has led the effort at the Green Energy Park since its inception in 2005. He brings to the project an enthusiasm for renewable energy, belief in the power of community, and the ability to turn what could be into what is.
Richard G. Sneed is the Principal Chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI). Sneed life’s work has been one of public service advocating for youth, community building, and cultural preservation. The son of a businessman and former councilmember, he knows that hard work and a community-centered focus enable collective opportunity. In this vein, he has worked throughout his career to ensure that Cherokee people have equitable access to quality education and can put these skills to work in a community they can be proud of. Having grown up in Wolftown, on the Qualla Boundary, he values being rooted in a community that honors family, culture, and progressive thinking. After graduating from Cherokee High School in 1986, Richard Sneed served in the United States Marine Corp for four years. Father of five children, Sneed earned his degree from Universal Technical College in Phoenix, AZ, and holds a North Carolina Teaching License in Industrial Arts.
Mini-panel conversation topics will include: Building Tourism Ecosystems, Investing in Outdoor Rec, Spotlighting Arts and Culture, and Utilizing Creative Placemaking and Revitalizing Downtowns.
Noah Wilson specializes in helping communities and organizations work together to build shared infrastructure and systems, and achieve economic & community development goals larger than any one organization could tackle alone. Noah serves as Director of Sector Development at Mountain Bizworks, a Community Development Financial institution working to build a vibrant and inclusive entrepreneurial community in Western North Carolina by helping small businesses start, grow, and thrive. In his role there, he leads Mountain BizWorks’ initiatives to expand entrepreneurship and economic opportunity through place-based industry development strategies, with a special focus on the outdoor economy and food systems.
Born and raised in Welch, WV, Jina was instilled with an entrepreneurial spirit at a young age. After starting her own business at 16 years old, Jina was the first student to receive the McKelvey Foundation Entrepreneurial Scholarship during their junior year of high school. After graduating from Concord University in 2009 with a B.S. in Recreation and Tourism Management with an emphasis in Event Planning & Promotions, Jina returned home to assist her family in expanding the only non-profit food pantry in McDowell County. While there, Jina served as Trust Systems Administrator for 7 years at MCNB Bank and Trust Company. In February 2019, Jina officially joined the NRGRDA as Director of Business Development. Combining her previous community development skills with her background in finance and social enterprise will allow her to provide the New River Gorge region with resources and expertise needed to grow the thriving economy of Southern WV.
Don Cason is the Executive Director for the Rutherford County Tourism Development Authority. He has over 20 years of Tourism and Economic Development experience. Don’s experience includes over 10 years in Gatlinburg, TN and 8 years in Jefferson County, TN as a property owner, and Executive of the Chamber of Commerce. He was instrumental in Strategic Plans and Capital campaigns in both communities. Don is a proponent in focusing on the future and bringing people together to create an atmosphere to work together to accomplish goals. Under Don’s direction, the Rutherford County Tourism Development Authority is currently working on a county-wide Tourism Strategic Plan. This plan will focus on Rutherford County’s Tourism Asset Development for the future. When Don is not working at the Tourism Development Authority, he enjoys spending time with his wife. Don and his wife Kim, have been married for 41 years.
Angie has served as director of the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area Partnership for 12 years, leading the organization to create several new initiatives including the Blue Ridge Music Trails of North Carolina and the Blue Ridge Craft Trails. Previously, she worked for 10 years as the North Carolina Arboretum’s Director of Public Programs, and from 2006-2009 she served as President of the Blue Ridge Parkway Association, the marketing partner of the Blue Ridge Parkway, helping to organize the Parkway’s 75th Anniversary Celebration. Chandler, an Alabama native, has family roots in Western North Carolina spanning seven generations. She is a graduate of Auburn University with a degree in Journalism and History. She is a graduate of the North Carolina Rural Economic Development Institute, and attended Southeast Tourism Marketing College and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Organizational Management. She currently serves of the board of the Alliance of National Heritage Areas and is a member of the Southeast Tourism Society Advocacy Committee.
After serving two terms as a Commissioner representing the first District of Jackson County, I was elected to the office of County Mayor in August of 2018. It has been my goal as Mayor to improve the quality of life for every citizen in Jackson County, without increasing taxes on the residents. The development of Tourism in Gainesboro – Jackson County in the past 3 years has brought a renewed energy and new tax base to the community. Jackson County was removed from the ARC Distressed list in July of 2020 and has continued to see growth, economically and in population.
Mitch Miller is the CEO of the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership, which serves the Johnson City, TN Metro. Mitch has a long history in economic development and has worked in the profession for over 15 years. He’s excited to bring his creativity and love of new ideas into the profession, through making TikToks and exploring new ways to connect the economic development community virtually. Mitch loves anything outdoors – he’s an avid hiker and likes to travel to new hiking destinations with his soon-to-be 7-year-old son Samuel.
Amanda Pitzer is the Executive Director of Friends of the Cheat (FOC), West Virginia’s flagship watershed group. Originally from Erie, Pennsylvania, she studied studio art and biology at Allegheny College. Amanda began her tenure with FOC in 2010. Since this time, FOC has solidified its reputation as a leader in water quality protection and restoration. Once named one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers, the Cheat River now boasts healthy fisheries from its headwaters to its confluence with the Monongahela. Amanda was named one of West Virginia’s 50 “Wonder Women” by WV Living Magazine and in 2020 she was honored with the National River Hero award. Also in 2020, Amanda was appointed by the Governor to serve as one of West Virginia’s first Flatwater Trail Commissioners. She is a Board member of the newly reinvigorated, statewide trail organization WV TRAIL. She lives with her family in Preston County, West Virginia.
Scott Smith is the Executive Director of the First Frontier Appalachian Trails. First Frontier is a new trail system currently being planned and constructed throughout Eastern Kentucky. Prior to this role, Scott spent time with state and county government as well as the healthcare field. Scott holds a Bachelor’s Degree from Eastern Kentucky University. In his spare time he enjoys riding UTV’s and motorcycles, camping with his wife and daughter, hunting, and golfing.