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State slashes AdvantageWest funding by 70%

AdvantageWest, the industry-recruiting agency that serves 23 counties in Western North Carolina, plans to identify new revenue sources and use cash reserves to survive a 70 percent cut in state money.

The AdvantageWest board met on Aug. 8 for the first time since the North Carolina Legislature finalized the state budget. Last year, AdvantageWest received an appropriation of $1.1 million ─ roughly half of the organization's annual budget. The new state budget effective July 1 reduced the amount to $337,000.

AdvantageWest receives support from grants and foundations as well as donations from corporations, organizations and private individuals. That, in combination with cash reserves and work by AdvantageWest board and staff members to identify new sources of income, will continue to sustain the organization, Board Chairman Tom Alexander said in a news release.

"Despite the reduction in state funding and the uncertainty of how the reorganization of the N.C. Department of Commerce might affect AdvantageWest, this organization is moving forward," Alexander said. "We're focusing on what we need to do to adjust to new realities. Certainly, AdvantageWest may not look exactly the same as it has in recent years, but this wouldn't be the first time we've adapted to changing circumstances. In fact, it's that flexibility that has helped earn AdvantageWest a reputation as one of the most innovative and diversified economic development organizations in the country."

In other action, two new Board members were sworn in, both appointed by the N.C. House of Representatives. Erik Brinke, of Murphy, is director of economic development for Blue Ridge Mountain Electric Membership Corporation and serves as chair of the Cherokee County School Board. Bruce Goforth, founder of Goforth Builders general contractors in Asheville, represented the 115th District for nearly four terms in the N.C. House.

Also during the meeting, AT&T Regional Director for External Affairs Lavoy Spooner demonstrated the company's longtime and ongoing support of AdvantageWest's job creation initiatives by presenting a check for its annual corporate contribution.

"We are truly grateful for the support we receive from AT&T and all our corporate partners," said AdvantageWest President & CEO Scott Hamilton. "We also appreciate everyone who has advocated in recent months on behalf of the critical role AdvantageWest plays in this region. You have confirmed time and again the value you place in our efforts and in our partnership in creating positive economic opportunities for businesses, organizations and the citizens of Western North Carolina."

AdvantageWest is one of seven regional economic development partnerships across North Carolina. It focuses on advanced manufacturing, entrepreneurship, the film industry, the green-tech and clean-energy economy and agribusiness.