Business owners in Western North Carolina (WNC) received help to create jobs and expand businesses as part of a $1.97 million American Reinvestment and Recovery Act grant awarded by the U.S. Forest Service’s Southern Research Station headquartered in Asheville, N.C.
For that reason and more, Land-of-Sky Regional Council, the local administrator of the grant, won the 2012 Innovation Award from the National Association of Development Organizations for their creative approaches to regional community and economic development.
“The Southern Research Station awarded the funding to Land-of-Sky through a very competitive proposal process,” said Susan Fox, assistant director of Southern Research Station. “Erica Anderson and Land-of-Sky have done a phenomenal job administering the grant, and it is great to see that they are getting national recognition for all of their hard work and dedication to the WNC Forest Products Cooperative Marketing Project.”
One of the recipients of the grant, Lang Hornthal, craftsman and owner of Appalachian Designs LLC in Fairview, N.C., received $74,900 to develop a dry kiln, concentration yard, and certification program for small diameter wood products.
“I hate to think about what 2010 and 2011 would have looked like without the grant,” said Hornthal. “The grant made it possible for me to expand my supply yard and to keep doing business with local suppliers. Instead of just existing, I was able to keep moving forward and plan for the future.”
Other grants went to companies to construct dry kilns to bundle, market and transport environmentally safe and marketable firewood and to develop marketing and education materials to increase capacity for locally sourced firewood.
Some groups used funds to gain Forest Stewardship Council certification, assist local vendors in becoming FSC certified, and to market the benefits of green furniture constructed with sustainably harvested wood.
This has been a mutually beneficial partnership with Land-of-Sky and Western North Carolina communities,” Fox said. “The forest industry has been severely impacted by the economy, and this project has helped 15 small businesses create 164 jobs for under or unemployed forest producers.”
Erica Anderson, a working lands planner for Land-of-Sky, said the grant provided critical financial resources to small businesses throughout western North Carolina when they needed it most.
“Business owners have expressed sincere appreciation that they were able to hire producers, providing a much needed source of income,” said Anderson.