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New Mountain Asheville owner Adrian Zelski addresses the crowd and New Belgium CEO Kim Jordan (left) prepares to address local business owners at a B the Change meeting in May. Photo: Adrian Zelski

By Jennifer Saylor

Representatives from three Asheville businesses interested in supporting values other than just making money were in Raleigh on Wednesday to lobby for legislation in North Carolina that would recognize benefit corporations, or B Corps.

Adrian Zelski of New Earth MUZiQ and an owner of Asheville Music Hall as well as New Mountain Asheville, Susanne Hackett of New Belgium Asheville and Michael Whelchel of Big Path Capital in Asheville made the rounds at the N.C. General Assembly to push for passage of the legislation.

B Corps are corporations designed for redefining success in business: shifting corporate goals from being defined solely by profit to including the public good, from exclusive benefit to shareholders to including all stakeholders, according to Katie Kerr, spokeswoman for the nonprofit B Lab. The nonprofit helps businesses create new cultural norms in support of an economy based on the classic “triple bottom line” of people, planet and profits, according to Kerr. It also cultivates investors seeking to align investment dollars with their triple-bottom-line values, and encourages companies and businesses to measure impact and performance to employees, society, and the environment.

A B Corp certification is similar to a Fair Trade designation for coffee or LEED certification for environmentally sustainable construction, Kerr says.Thirteen hundred B Corps have been recognized in the U.S. since 2010. Nearly 30 states in the U.S. have legislation that allows benefit corporations to exist.

B Lab supports business as “a force for good,” according to Kerr. It works toward this goal by offering a its own B Corp certification and by helping businesses create new cultural norms in support of an economy based on the classic “triple bottom line” of people, planet and profits. It also cultivates investors seeking to align investment dollars with their triple-bottom-line values, and encourages companies and businesses to measure impact and performance to employees, society, and the environment.

Zelski leads a local, public “B the Change” gathering every two weeks in various venues in Asheville. The meetings are dedicated to exploring B Corporation impacts and support in Asheville.

“We want to provide a support team for values-based businesses in North Carolina, and help get the B Corp legislation passed in N.C.,” Zelski says.

Both New Belgium and New Earth MUZiQ are B Corps, and both are new to Asheville. New Belgium is bigger, and New Mountain is open now. Zelski has organized local meetings, and New Belgium has the clout to command attention in the push for legislation.

“Along with other B Corps from across the state we will be talking with our state legislators about the importance of B Corps being a cost-free tool that will attract additional investment and businesses to our state,” Hackett said earlier in the week. “We don’t see any downside to allowing companies to focus on the values that are important to them while also creating a profit.”

Zelski points out that B Corp legislation isn’t a partisan political issue. The second, recent attempt to bring B Corp legislation to N.C. is spearheaded by Henderson County Republican Rep. Chuck McGrady, the politician behind HB 534, the North Carolina Benefit Corporation Act.

In an April 2015 Asheville Citizen-Times article, McGrady laid the initial failure of the bill’s passage at the feet of members of his own political party.

“A bunch of people that were primarily Tea Party Republicans just got spooked on it,” McGrady said in the Citizen-Times. “I’m just hoping that with another shot that people will have looked at it and realize this is not a huge plot or anything like that. It’s simply an effort to provide North Carolina businesses with the same options that other states provide.”

Hackett says HB 534 has not yet been scheduled for a committee hearing yet, and she and Zelski hope to know more later this week.

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B Lab Community Development Associate Andy Fyfe, a traveling B Corp evangelist based in NYC, will meet with Asheville’s public B the Change group to discuss the status and growth of B Corps in Asheville on Monday, June 8 at 12:30 at  Zelski’s downtown music and event venue, New Mountain.

For more information on Fyfe’s visit or other B the Change events, register for B the Change updates here.

Currently, the B the Change meetup group holds a public support meeting every second Friday at various Asheville venues. Its next networking and support event after Fyfe’s visit is scheduled for Friday June 12 at SOL Bar at New Mountain Asheville, 38 North French Broad Ave.

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