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Outdoor Economy Conference Agenda

Friday, October 5th, 9:00am-6:30pm

University Center

  • 8:00AM-8:45AM Check-In & Registration
    Networking and Continental Breakfast

  • 9:00AM-9:15AM Welcome
    Arthur Salido, Executive Director of Community and Economic Engagement and Innovation at Western Carolina University and Dr. Alison Morrison-Shetlar, Interim Chancellor at Western Carolina University

  • 9:15AM-9:45AM Keynote Speaker
    Pete Ripmaster, 1,000 Mile Iditarod Trail Invitational Champion

  • 9:45AM-10:45AM Outdoor Business Panel Discussion, sponsored by Wildwater Adventure Centers
    Listen to stories from regional business owners about how they started and grew their businesses, and hear about their successes and challenges!
    Noah Wilson (Panel Moderator), Program Director at Outdoor Gear Builders of WNC; Cory McCall, Co-owner of Outdoor 76; Juliet Jacobsen Kastorff, Co-owner of Endless River Adventures; and Jeff Greiner, President & Co-owner of Nantahala Gorge Canopy Tours

  • 10:45AM-11:05AM Break & Networking

  • 11:05AM-12:00PM Gear Design & Manufacturing Discussion, sponsored by WCU's College of Engineering and Technology
    Panel discussion on the opportunities and challenges for outdoor gear design, prototyping, and manufacturing in Western North Carolina. Panelists will discuss collaboration and expansion of current issues and partnering with WCU's Rapid Center to advance the industry.
    Jeffrey Ray (Panel Moderator), Dean of Western Carolina University's College of Engineering and Technology; Tom Reeder, Director of Engineering for SylvanSport; Patrick Gardner, Director of Western Carolina University's Rapid Center; and Lauren Rash, Vice President of Operations at Diamond Brand Gear

  • 12:00PM-12:45PM Lunch

  • 12:45PM-1:00PM Student Pitch Competition Award Announcement

  • 1:00PM-1:30PM Speaker
    David Knight, Business Development Manager in the Outdoor Recreation Industry at the Economic Development Partnership of NC (EDPNC); including 10 minutes of Q&A

  • 1:30PM-2:00PM Speed Networking Activities
    Amy AllisonMarketing Coordinator at ENORebecca CrandallNC Board Certified Trademark Specialist & Registered Patent Attorney at McGuire, Wood & Bissette Law FirmPatrick Gardner, Director of Western Carolina University's Rapid CenterJeffrey KaplanDirector of Entrepreneurship at Venture Asheville Economic Development; Pete Ripmaster1,000 Mile Iditarod Trail Invitational ChampionRyan TaylorWCU Alumnus and Outdoor Entrepreneur; and TBD

  • 2:00-2:10PM Break & Networking

  • 2:10PM-2:30PM Large Group Networking Activity
    Led by Base Camp Cullowhee

  • 3:40PM-3:50PM Break & Networking

    • Session C: Marketing and Promotion, sponsored by Destination by Design
      You have a business but you need customers! Learn how others are building their brands and inspiring loyal customers.
      Steve Bridges (Panel Moderator), Associate Director of Employer Engagement at Western Carolina University's Center for Career and Professional Development; Stephan Pruitt, Director of Membership at Dig Local AVL; Chris Bubenik, Marketing Manager at Diamond Brand Outdoors; and Angie Robinson, Vice President of Darby Communications

    • Session D: Stewardship of Public Lands and Rivers Open Discussion, sponsored by Duke Energy
      Discussion of public lands and rivers stewardship, strategies to protect natural assets that make this region a destination for outdoor recreation and equipment design and development. Create regional action steps for stewardship advocacy with like-minded organizations, businesses, and land managers.
      Andy Coburn (Panel Moderator), Associate Director of Western Carolina University's Program for the Study of Developed ShorelinesLisa Leatherman, District Manager for the Nantahala Area for Government and Community Relations at Duke Energy; Mark Singleton, Executive Director of American Whitewater; and Zachary Lesch-Huie, Interim Executive Director at Access Fund.

  • 4:50PM-5:00PM Closing Remarks
    Including future outdoor initiatives from Western Carolina University, Arthur Salido

  • 5:00PM-6:30PM Reception/Cocktail
    Sponsored by Innovation Brewing Company and Buchi Kombucha

Keynote Speakers

WCU's Outdoor Economy Conference Speaker David Knight

David Knight serves as NC's Outdoor Industry Recruitment Director in the Department of Commerce. Mr. Knight will lead efforts to promote North Carolina's outdoor recreation economy and recruit new outdoor industry businesses. Previously, David ran his own policy consulting business based in Raleigh and served as Assistant Secretary for Natural Resources at the NC Department of Environmental and Natural Resources, now known as the Department of Environmental Quality. Earlier in his career, David served as Director of Government Relations for The North Carolina Nature Conservancy.

WCU's Outdoor Economy Conference Keynote Pete Ripmaster

Pete Ripmaster is a father, husband, ultra-marathoner, and public speaker. He ran his first marathon in 2008 and has since continued to push the boundaries of his physical and mental capabilities. After running 50 marathons in 50 states, his interest shifted to ultra-marathons, setting his sights on the longest and most brutal ultra-marathon in the world- the Iditarod Trail Invitational (ITI) Foot 1000. After a near-death experience during the 2016 ITI Foot 1000, he vowed to return to Alaska and conquer the race. In 2018, Pete completed the 1000-mile journey across the far reaches of the Alaskan wilderness with a winning time of 26 days, 13 hours, and 44 minutes. He is a decorated public speaker with a passion for sharing his story of perseverance and determination, empowering audiences to chase their dreams with tenacity and resolve. More information on Pete's life, career, and speaking engagements can be found at

Special Guest

Tom Dempsey headshot

 Tom Dempsey has founded and led several North Carolina-based companies in the outdoor industry, including SylvanSport, a Brevard-based company that manufactures popular compact RVs. As a creative industrial designer, his past work includes products in the medical and outdoor-recreation fields that have been featured by hundreds of media outlets. He lives in Transylvania County and his leadership and advocacy have been critical to the growth of the outdoor industry statewide.


Chris Bubenik

 Chris Bubenik - When people spend time outdoors, they're happier, healthier, and just better all-around human beings. Chris is driven by the idea that outdoor recreation can be transformative and isn't limited to a walk in the woods; adventure can just as easily be discovering a new band at an amphitheater as it can be paddling down a jungle river. After spending time working in print and radio media, Chris transitioned into nonprofit marketing before joining Diamond Brand Outdoors and Frugal Backpacker as Marketing Manager in 2015 where he crafts a message focusing on outdoor experiences rather than products. A 2006 graduate of UNC Asheville, he has lived in western North Carolina for 20 years.

Justin Davis headshot

 Justin Davis is the Co-Owner/Co-Founder of Strong Tower Tools LLC and an Air Force Veteran (2005-2012). Strong Tower Tools primarily sells automotive professional tools but also have many customers who are avid outdoorsman, and Strong Tower provides a wide range of products to them for their outdoor hobbies. Strong Tower Tools offers an ability to get the products you need to be a successful technician and to get the things you want to have fun with a weekly interest-free payment plan.

Sandra Dennison

 Sandra Dennison is the Regional Center Director of the Small Business and Technology Development Center at WCU. She is a third-generation entrepreneur having owned, operated, and sold two businesses in Western North Carolina. With this experience, she has been able to learn first- hand the challenges and rewards that come with owning and growing your own small business. Sandra holds a Bachelor's of Science degree in Entrepreneurship with a Communications concentration and a Masters of Project Management both from Western Carolina University.

Patrick Gardner

 Patrick Gardner is the Director of the Rapid Center and the Mountain Distinguished Professor in the College of Engineering and Technology at Western Carolina University. As the Rapid Center Director, Dr. Gardner leads a team of full-time engineers, faculty, and students to provide a broad array of engineering services, such as reverse engineering, product design, and prototyping (including 3-D printing) for external businesses and inventors. He is a retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel and holds a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology. Dr. Gardner joined WCU in 2007.

Jeff Greiner, President of Wildwater

 With a long term perspective on the outdoor industry, Jeff Greiner's family started Wildwater Adventures in 1971. Jeff is one of several involved as part of the second generation of the family business. In 2008, Jeff started Nantahala Gorge Canopy Tours (NGCT) with several partners. NGCT now operates 4 Zipline Canopy tour locations across the SE region. In 2012, Jeff created The Adventure Center of Asheville that includes "traditional" Zipline Canopy Tours, the original KidZip Zipline adventure for families and their children under 10 down to 4 years old. The ACA also includes Western NC's largest Treetops Adventure Park and Kolo Bike Park. ACA also offers adventure and bike day camps throughout the summer.

Ryan Jaskot

 Ryan Jaskot is a Western Carolina alum, having earned a Bachelor of Science in Management and Economics in 2009 and then an MBA in 2011. Following graduation, Ryan worked as a business consultant for six years, specializing in small business financial analysis and due diligence. In 2017 Ryan joined Mountain BizWorks, an organization dedicated to entrepreneur development and small business lending as a lender, enabling him to utilize his consulting experience to enhance the entrepreneurial community in Western North Carolina.

Juliet Kastroff

 Juliet Jacobsen Kastorff graduated from Sweet Briar College with a B.A. in English and Economics, and certificates in Spanish and Business. She is working towards a Masters in Liberal Arts at Johns Hopkins University and a Masters in English at Western Carolina University. Juliet is the co-founder of Endless River Adventures in North Carolina and the Rio Quijos EcoLodge in Ecuador. In addition to "owner," she is also a dedicated kayak instructor and international guide specifically in Chile, Costa Rica, and Ecuador.

Lisa Leatherman-Duke Energy

 Lisa Leatherman is the Nantahala Area District Manager for Duke Energy Carolinas. A native of Franklin, Lisa received her Bachelor of Arts in Biology from Elon College and has worked in various customer-facing roles throughout her 28-year career with Duke. A true community volunteer, Lisa has served on the Mainspring board since 2008 and serves on numerous other nonprofit boards in Macon County. She also is a member of the Sylva Rotary Club.


Zachary Lesch-Huie, Access Fund

 Zachary Lesch-Huie is acting Interim Executive Director for Access Fund providing leadership and management for all Access Fund programs and operations. Prior to this role, Zachary was based out of Chattanooga, TN, working as Southeast Regional Dir./Affiliate Dir. for Access Fund. Zachary led the organization's Southeast programs through climbing land acquisitions, stewardship work, public land management planning, educational projects, and other initiatives. He also led Access Fund's national Affiliate program, which supports over 100 local climbing advocacy and conservation organizations.


Cory McCall-Outdoor 76

 Cory McCall is co-owner of Outdoor 76, a full-service outdoor store that is committed to excellence in sales, service, and selection of outdoor lifestyle needs. He attended Western Carolina University and graduated with a degree in Hospitality and Tourism in 2004. Upon completion of his degree from WCU, he received his real estate license and sold real estate full-time for five years. In 2010, he opened Outdoor 76 on Main Street in Franklin, NC, which services over 2,000 Appalachian Trail hikers every year along with adventure seekers and lifestyle enthusiasts who are drawn to the mountains of western North Carolina. In 2013, Cory opened Rock House Lodge, a craft beer taproom, which is located inside of Outdoor 76. Customers can select one of 18 craft beers on draft, have a glass of wine or champagne and then go explore a full selection of outdoor gear, clothing & footwear. Outdoor 76 currently operates stores in Franklin & Cherokee, NC along with a store in Clayton, GA that is set to be open early Fall of 2018.

Erika McGilley

 Erika McGilley - Erika McGilley joined Natural Capital Investment Fund in September 2014 as the Senior Business Lender for Western North Carolina and is based in Asheville, NC. Her primary responsibilities include marketing, deal origination and underwriting for NCIF's Business Loan Program in Western NC, and Eastern TN. Amid a successful 20-year career as a Business Development Officer/Commercial Lender at Community and Regional banks in Maine and Western NC, Erika sought to serve an organization invested with values more aligned with her own: creating meaningful and sustainable work through progressive economic development options in harmony with our natural world. In her role as Western North Carolina Senior Lender, Erika is passionate about providing access to capital for innovative projects at the nexus of the economy, tourism, energy and local foods that create jobs.

 Art O'Neil graduated from Emory University in the early 80's and seminary in '85. After serving as a pastor in the Atlanta area for several years, the "call" to the mountains brought him to Lake Junaluska where he bought the Sunset Inn. He has called these mountains home ever since. Art joined forces with Kevin over a year ago, and the two began the BearWaters expansion in Canton. New to the brewing world, Art comes to BearWaters from a long history in the food and beverage industry. For the past 30 years, Art has owned and managed several restaurants, a country inn, and a private dining club. As one of the owners, Art now oversees the front of the house and coordinates the sales and marketing efforts for the brewery. Jokingly referred to as "Mr. Hoptomistic", Art's energy and vision make a great match for the BearWaters team.

Justin Padgett

 Justin S. Padgett is the Executive Director of Landmark Learning, a nationally accredited school for persons who work outdoors based in western North Carolina. Holding an MS in Training and Development from Western Carolina University, and as a National Registry Paramedic, Justin has played an active role in emergency medical services since 1994. He has more than 30 years as a trip leader and educator in the areas of wilderness medicine, emergency medical services, mountaineering, rock climbing, ropes course facilitation, rafting, whitewater kayaking, swiftwater rescue, lifeguarding, and caving, both internationally and at home. Justin's involvement in curriculum development across these disciplines has contributed to the alignment of national standards for certification training particular to the outdoor community.

Bernadette Peters headshot

 Bernadette Peters started City Lights Cafe after her love for the outdoors brought her to Western North Carolina eight years ago. As a former marketing and business consultant from Atlanta, she wanted to use her background in a small tourist town to build a community space. With the help of the SBTDC and SBC, she was able to get plugged into the business community and create a plan that included financing to grow her business. In her spare time, Bernadette enjoys mountain biking, hiking, paddle boarding, and backpacking.

Stephan Puitt, Dig Local Asheville

 Stephan Pruitt is the Membership Director and longest running employee of Dig Local Asheville. Dig Local is the only app that shows what to do every day in the Asheville Area. Stephan secures relationships with all the local businesses in the Asheville area and gets them on board the app, works with most of the large events in festivals in Asheville to give Dig Local a presence at them, runs one of the largest local business owner networking groups in Asheville, and overall stays connected to the heartbeat of the thriving Asheville business community. In the next year, Dig Local is working on expanding their app outside of the Asheville area.

Lauren Rash-Diamond Brand Gear

 Lauren Rash serves as Vice President of Operations at Diamond Brand Gear and oversees manufacturing planning, product design, quality, and operations. Lauren came to Diamond Brand Gear after spending five years at GE Aviation, where she was the plant's Lean Six Sigma leader and strategic growth coordinator, servicing two Aviation value streams for the Asheville plant. Before GE, Lauren owned her own design consulting company, Designs and Drafting, designing and making manufacturing drawings for industries including furniture, lighting, archery equipment, transducers, and more. Lauren is native to North Carolina and received a bachelor's degree from North Carolina State University's School of Design in 2000. She and her husband have lived in Western North Carolina for over ten years and have a son. She enjoys hiking, reading and dabbling in fine art creations.

Tom Reeder- SylvanSport

 Tom Reeder is the Director of Engineering for SylvanSport. He joined the company in January 2007 to manage the mechanical design and engineering aspects of the mobile adventure gear product development. He earned his Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Brown University and his Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering from MIT. After graduation, he spent four years in a product development division of 3M Company quickly rising to the level of Senior Design Engineer. From there he moved on to Cane Creek Cycling Components near Asheville, NC. Focusing on product design and development of high-end road and mountain bike components, Tom assumed the director of R&D position. After 11 years at Cane Creek, he transitioned his experience to the new product development efforts at SylvanSport.

Angie Robinson

 As an outdoor industry veteran and native of Western NC, Angie Robinson got her start almost 20 years ago at Great Outdoor Provision Company in Raleigh, NC and later at Black Dome Mountain Sports in Asheville, NC. Today she is the Vice President of Darby Communications, a boutique communications agency based in Asheville, NC that focuses on outdoor, fitness and active lifestyle brands, as well as BRICK. digital marketing service for retailers. Although she serves many roles, her specialty at Darby is implementing successful ambassador programs and helping clients reach their PR goals through effective strategies.

 Kevin Sandefur, Founder of BearWater Brewing Co., developed many signature recipes in his makeshift beer kitchen, a modest root cellar adjoining his home. At the urging of friends, family and colleagues, Kevin decided to explore the possibility of making his hobby a career. In 2009 Kevin attended the Craft Beer Conference in Boston Massachusetts. There he met with many successful brewery owners who were eager to share their experiences and advice. He immediately fell in love with the industry and the people and decided to pursue his passion. In 2010, BearWaters was set on its way with a startup seed grant that was awarded by the Haywood County chamber of commerce. Determined to get his new venture up and running, Kevin rented a small warehouse in Waynesville. Using what he had available, Kevin methodically transformed the small warehouse into a lively bright nano brewing operation.

Mark Singleton (Exec. Dir. American Whitewater)

 Mark Singleton joined American Whitewater as Executive Director in 2004. American Whitewater is the primary advocate for the preservation and protection of whitewater rivers throughout the United States and connects the interests of human-powered recreational river users with ecological and science-based data to restore and protect rivers. Under Mark's leadership, American Whitewater's conservation and access program has been refocused and transformed into the American Whitewater River Stewardship program, an integrated approach to the river restoration and conservation work of American Whitewater.

Wes Stone- WCU Engineering & Technology

  Wes Stone has been a faculty member in the School of Engineering and Technology at WCU, since 2004. He earned his BS from the University of Texas at Austin, MS from Penn State University, and PhD from Georgia Tech, all in Mechanical Engineering. Dr. Stone spent 8+ years working in manufacturing with General Electric and 2 years on the Mechanical Engineering faculty at Valparaiso University. He is an avid outdoorsman and has logged 600 miles over several years of hiking the Appalachian Trail. Dr. Stone has combined his engineering experience with his affinity for the outdoors to pursue research in outdoor gear design and testing, complementing his efforts in Lean and Six Sigma quality efforts.

Paul Wolf

 Paul Wolf M.A.Ed. is the Program Coordinator and Instructor of Outdoor Leadership and Wilderness Therapy at Southwestern Community College. He is a member of the Association for Experiential Education Accreditation Council and is a principal editor of the Manual of Accreditation Standards for Adventure Programs and the Manual of Accreditation Standards for Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare. He serves as a member of the Therapeutic Adventure Professional Group's Certification Standards Committee. Paul is a seasoned outdoor professional having worked as a Course Director, Staff Trainer and Rock Climbing Technician for Voyageur Outward Bound School, Manager of Custom Programs for the Nantahala Outdoor Center and as an Experiential Education Specialist for Wisconsin's Division of Youth Services and currently works as Trainer, Tester and Inspector for Alpine Towers International.



Amy Allison headshot

 Amy Allison is the Marketing Manager at ENO in Asheville NC and spearheads their initiatives for giving back to the global community. For over 20 years, Amy Allison has dedicated her energy and skills to connecting others to the outdoors. From directing pioneering experiential education programs with youth across the Southeast to living on the road all over the lower 48 as a national Traveling Trainer for the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, the strategy of integrating sustainability, education, and business has been the context of her career. In addition to steering ENO's marketing division, she is also a founding member and the current Board Chair of the Outdoor Gear Builders of WNC.

Steve Bridges headshot

 Steve Bridges joined Western Carolina University as the Associate Director of Employer Engagement for the Center for Career and Professional Development in 2016. Prior to joining WCU, he worked in economic development at the local, regional, and state levels in Virginia. In addition to this experience, he also has a background in marketing in the agency environment and for both for-profit and non-profit companies. Steve holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in History and English and a Master of Business Administration degree from Averett University in Danville, Virginia.

Andy Coburn headshot

 Andy Coburn is a member of the WCU Research and Graduate faculty, where he serves as Associate Director of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines and is the university's first Faculty Associate for Campus Engagement in Sustainability. Andy teaches courses on environmental politics, policy, sustainability, and energy in WCU's Master of Public Affairs Program and Environmental Science Program, and has over 25 years' interdisciplinary professional environmental management, policy, and planning experience.
Andy holds a Master of Environmental Management degree from Duke University and a B.S. degree from The Pennsylvania State University. He is an avid hiker and backpacker and has section-hiked 600 miles of the Appalachian Trail. His trail name is "Pay Day."

Rebecca Crandall headshot

 Rebecca Crandall, a WNC native, is passionate about assisting entrepreneurs in protecting some of their most valuable assets, their intellectual property. As the only North Carolina Board Certified Trademark Specialist in WNC and a registered patent attorney, she focuses her problem-solving skills on helping clients to avoid and mitigate business risks with respect to trademarks, patents, and copyrights. Rebecca works with clients from the early stages of brand selection through clearance, registration, defense, and enforcement, utilizing in-depth knowledge and experience of the more complex aspects of trademark law that are often crucial to obtaining registrations and defending and enforcing rights. In addition to offering patent preparation and prosecution services, Rebecca provides thoughtful, straightforward advice to inventors and businesses regarding the protection of inventions.

Jeffrey Kaplan headshot

 Jeffrey Kaplan is the Director of Venture Asheville, an organization which serves as a catalyst for high-growth startups through the Elevate program, managing the Asheville Angels Investor Network, and partnering with local support organizations to positively impact the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Prior to joining Venture Asheville, Jeffrey instructed in Entrepreneurship at the University of Florida, launched and sold pet-tech startup Dogphrendly, and was a Product Owner and Consultant in digital product development at Anthroware.

Jeffrey Ray Headshot

Jeffrey Ray is Dean of the College of Engineering and Technology at Western Carolina University (WCU) and Professor of Mechanical Engineering. Dr. Ray is a Fellow of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE). Prior to joining WCU, Ray was Dean at Southern Polytechnic State University (SPSU) and Director of the School of Engineering at Grand Valley State University (GVSU), respectively. In addition, he led the multidisciplinary industry-sponsored capstone engineering design courses at GVSU.

Arthur Salido- Outdoor Economy Conference Organizer

  Arthur Salido is the Executive Director of Community and Economic Engagement and Innovation at Western Carolina University (WCU). In his current role, he seeks out partnerships, apprenticeships, funding, and learning opportunities that support faculty engagement and student learning. As a scientist and consultant, Dr. Salido has collaborated with regional biotech and beverage businesses to solve technical, product development, and strategy issues. He has been awarded grants, published peer-reviewed journal articles, and given presentations in the fields of science, education, and economic development. In his spare time, he enjoys snowboarding, mountain biking, and hiking with his wife, five boys, and dog, Angus. He feels blessed to live in the beautiful mountains of Western NC. The conference planning team and Dr. Salido want WCU's first outdoor industry conference ( to support regional entrepreneurship and business development. With the help of regional partners, the team plans to expand the conference to be the east coast's premier outdoor industry event.

Ryan Taylor headshot

 Ryan Taylor is a proud product of Western Carolina University's College of Business and College of Engineering, an outdoor entrepreneur [RecpreneurTM], and a dirt bike enthusiast. Since 2006, Ryan has led regional mountain bike projects in bike park design, construction and management, race promotion, product testing, and economic development. He worked for 6 years in WCU's Rapid Center. Ryan is a former professional privateer downhill mountain bike racer and holds an MBA and Masters of Entrepreneurship Certificate from WCU. Visit for his perspective on outdoor industry entrepreneurship education.

Noah Wilson-Outdoor Gear Builders

 Noah Wilson is Program Director for the Outdoor Gear Builders of WNC, and President at Emergent Opportunities Inc. He specializes in rural economic development planning and coordination, working with groups of leaders and citizens to identify the opportunities and challenges that lie before their communities, recognize their assets, and organize to make a better future for their communities and the places they are rooted in. By focusing on outdoor recreation and food systems, and helping to coordinate networks of businesses and organizations that grow these economic drivers, Noah is creating a new narrative for how rural communities can support entrepreneurship by focusing on quality of place, and on making quality products to help people enjoy and appreciate their surroundings.

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