The Isothermal region—composed of Cleveland, McDowell, Polk, and Rutherford Counties in Western North Carolina— is a region that is undergoing tremendous change. Positioned on the southern border of North Carolina, the Isothermal region is west of Charlotte, southeast of Asheville, and north of Spartanburg, SC.
During the past decade, the region has experienced significant job losses in the industries that once sustained its economy. Industries such as textiles and furniture manufacturing were particularly affected. Although growth is occurring at a slower pace than the rest of the state, the region is beginning to see emerging new opportunities resulting from private investment being made in several niche markets related to the manufacturing, services and agricultural sectors.
In 2008 with an update in 2010, the Isothermal Planning and Development Commission engaged leaders from throughout the region to craft a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS). This process involved engaging many key private and public sector leaders in deciding how best to address the region’s challenges and take advantage of potential regional opportunities. Upon completing this process, the CEDS steering committee opted to focus on six core strategies designed to: (1) enhance the region’s connections to the world, (2) strengthen workforce skills, (3) foster greater innovation within existing companies, (4)support entrepreneurial efforts, (5) engage in quality land use and development and (6) foster greater regional collaboration. Those strategies led to 14 actions identified in the 2011 CEDS plan.
Since then, progress has been made toward implementing each of those actions. However, given persistent workforce challenges, rising energy costs and unpredictable economic conditions, there is a need to revisit these strategies and actions. New opportunities have arisen as the region continues to evolve and emerging industries take root in areas as diverse as high value-added agriculture, viticulture, equine and both renewable and traditional energy production. Furthermore, the region continues to attract retirees in increasing numbers, creating new opportunities and challenges that were not foreseen.