2013 Ashvegas Year in Review: The year in business news


Here’s a look at the top business stories of the year in Asheville. In no particular order:

-Accelerating Appalachia launches: Sara Day Evans of Asheville launched this unique business incubator this year and had a crop of incredible business apply and become a part of Accelerating Appalachia. Here’s the basic background from a recent story by businessweek.com:

Evans borrowed approaches familiar to Silicon Valley startups (“lean launchpad,” “customer validation,” and “customer development” are among the buzzwords she uses). But instead of writing software, Accelerating Appalachia’s companies are focused on such sectors as organic food and farming, sustainable forestry, and green building. She uses the catch-all label “nature-based businesses” to describe the kinds of companies she wants to nurture. …

The accelerator selected 11 companies from about 100 applicants in the first half of the year to join the program, which is based in Asheville, in the western end of North Carolina near the Tennessee border. The accelerator, a nonprofit entity, is sustained by money Evans invested and raised from friends, as well as funds from economic development groups. The companies met for intensive sessions over 12 weeks to refine their business plans and meet with advisers and potential investors, culminating in a pitch day on Dec. 9.

Accelerating Appalachia plans to award two of its participating businesses with a minimum investment of $50,000 each. From Sara Day:

It’s an investment for two of the businesses, based on peer and investor review and ranking. We will reconvene with the businesses after the new year, arrange for meetings with investors so they can discuss details and potential partnerships. Our goal is to see that at least half of the businesses achieve their goals of partnership, investment or their other “asks” within 18 months to 2 years.

-Mountain BizWorks changes: This influential local nonprofit, which has helped countless entrepreneurs get started on their careers and helped countless other small business owners grow, announced a shocking scaling back in November 2013. It’s CEO, Shaw Canale, announced she was stepping down as the organization dealt with a lack of funding. Mountain BizWorks also announced it would phase out most of existing training programs by the middle of 2014. The remodeled organization would focus simply on lending, officials said.

-Pam Lewis’ awkward departure: In September, Ashvegas reported that Pam Lewis, Asheville’s high-profile director of entrepreneurship for the Buncombe County Economic Development Coalition, had parted ways with the umbrella organization, the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce. The reason for the parting of ways was unusual and controversial.

Lewis lost her job after tensions between she and chamber Executive Director Kit Cramer blew up over the posting of an innocent Facebook photo. Click here and here to read the bizarre unfolding of events. The loss of Lewis leaves Asheville without a point person to serve the business people it has spent the past several years courting – small business owners and savvy entrepreneurs seeking to start or expand in Asheville.

-Mission Health announces construction plan, and some cuts: Even though it is still in the planning stages, the mere fact that Mission Health this year announced major construction plans is worth noting. The largest health care entity in Western North Carolina, with more than 6,000 employees and a billion-dollar bottom line, Mission said it was planning to build a $350 million tower and combining services now spread on its two campuses. The start of actual construction is a couple years down the road. Background here.

Mission executives also caught flak after announcing some layoffs. An email that a Mission nurse sent to all employees summed up the frustration of many.

-Westside business boom: The opening of several new restaurants and businesses along Haywood Road in 2013 moved West Asheville into “destination” territory, right alongside the River Arts District and downtown Asheville. Here’s a quick look at some of what’s going on on Haywood Road: Wood & Spoon vintage home goods store opens; The Brew Pump bar-in-a-gas-station opens; The Mothlight music venue opens; Burgermeister’s closed and the Barleycorn gastropub opened in its place; the Haywood Cyclery bike shop opened. Restaurants in the works along Haywood Road but not yet open: Nine Mile West, King Daddy’s Chicken & Waffles, the doughnut shop Hole and Buffalo Nickel restaurant. Second Gear remodeled and expanded, and the Rhetorical Factory shop is in also in the works. Owners of the Asheville Sandwich Shop bought the former Digable Pizza building and announced plans for a new eatery there.

Keep an eye on even more development as work continues on New Belgium Brewing’s new $175 million East Coast Brewery nearby.

-Airport Road and Biltmore Square Mall shopping centers: A new shopping center on Airport Road, and new life for an old mall, hold promise for those who love to shop. The new shopping center on Airport Road will include an Aldi and a Dick’s Sporting Goods. There’s a new Courtyard by Marriott coming across the street. Meantime, Biltmore Square Mall this year will be transformed into an outlet mall. There’s no word yet on what stores will move in, but here’s the latest update presented last month to local tourism officials: Two Boston developers will remake Biltmore Square Mall into 325,000 square feet of outdoor outlet center. Current tenants have to be out of Biltmore Square Mall by the end of January. Belk and Dillards own their space. As for Cinebarre, which everyone asks me about, there’s no word on them. They may be negotiating a plan to stay.

Two other shopping notes: lots of folk are excited about H&M coming to the Asheville Mall; and Anthropologie late last year was negotiating with a downtown building owner about opening a store, but there’s nothing definite.

Downtown Asheville hotel building boom: Asheville is on the verge of a downtown hotel building boom. There’s no way to tell what will actually be built, but there’s a ton of action planned:

-Haywood Street at the intersection of Montford Avenue: This location is the former Three Brothers restaurant site. Plans have been submitted to the city.

-BB&T building: McKibbon recently bought the iconic Asheville office building and is planning to renovate it. The building will include a hotel, McKibbon has said.

-Elm Street off Merrimon Avenue: A Greensboro-based company that owns and operates hotels has purchased a parcel of property at 39 Elm St. The location is next to the 51 Grill on Merrimon Avenue, and is known to many as the old locale of a Steak and Ale restaurant. Word on the street is that a Marriott hotel is planned.

-Corner of Page Avenue and Battery Park Avenue: Tony Fraga, the owner of the Haywood Park Hotel, recently unveiled plans to build a Cambria Suites hotel on the site. Mountain Xpress has details here.

-Biltmore Estate: Rumor only at this point, but word on the street is there is a new hotel in the works for the Biltmore Estate property.

-Former Merita bread building on Patton: Property records show local hotel owner Shalin Patel bought the old Merita bread building on Patton on the outskirts of downtown, as well as an adjacent vacant lot. No word on what he plans to do with the property, but he does own and operate hotels.

-Beer distributor expands: Empire Distributors Inc. received government incentives in 2013 to build a 175,00-square-foot facility at Broadpointe Industrial Park in Mills River. The company wants room to add another 100,000 square feet of space at the location. Empire said it had outgrown its 60,000-square-foot facility in Arden. Mills River approved $21,000 in economic incentives over seven years, while the Henderson County Board of Commissioners approved $479,000 in incentives over seven years. Empire must invest $20 million in property and equipment over that time and create at least 15 jobs.

Empire distributes beer made by Sierra Nevada Brewing, which later this year will open its new East Coast brewery near the industrial park location, which is close to the Asheville Regional Airport and Interstates 26 and 40.

The expansion is clear example of the ripple effect that Western North Carolina’s craft beer industry can have.

Worth noting: President Barack Obama visited the Linamar manufacturing plant in Arden in February 2013. Obama came to town to talk about his plan to grow the American economy. In his warm-up remarks, Obama again professed his love of 12 Bones barbecue and mentioned that he and the First Lady might consider retiring to Asheville. It was Obama’s fourth visit to Asheville since he first stopped by to campaign for president in 2008. He visited again in 2010 when he and the First Lady vacationed at the Grove Park Inn. He also stopped at the Asheville Regional Airport during a tour supporting his jobs act legislation.