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Outdoor economy initiative at WCU named finalist for national award

An outdoor economy initiative at Western Carolina University has been selected as a finalist in the University Economic Development Association’s 2019 Awards of Excellence competition.

“Outdoor Recreation as an Economic and Community Engagement Catalyst in Western North Carolina” is WCU’s name for a regional collaborative designed to boost an already thriving outdoor industry to an even higher level. The project was nominated in the innovation and talent category of the Awards of Excellence.

Arthur Salido

Arthur Salido, WCU’s executive director of community and economic engagement and innovation, leads the effort at the university and will present the project at the association’s annual summit in Reno-Tahoe, Nevada, on Sept. 29-Oct. 2. The theme of this year’s event is “Designing Resilient Regions: The Biggest Little Ideas for All Ecosystems.” Award winners will be announced at the summit.

The university has a long history of involvement and leadership in regional economic development, including outdoor recreation. WCU is situated in one the nation’s leading outdoor recreation destinations, with the Blue Ridge Parkway, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Pisgah and Nantahala national forests, numerous lakes and rivers, hiking and biking trails and state parks and forests located nearby.

“Success in our modern economy is about innovation and entrepreneurship,” Salido said. “It is about fostering talent in young people from preschool through life to embolden them to think and create outside the traditional academic or professional requirements. It is about creating environments that attract those people who want to make and do things in new ways and retaining that talent to start the process over again in the next generation.”

In the last year, WCU’s involvement in boosting the region’s outdoor economy included creating two outdoor recreation industry liaison positions among its faculty to ensure that new academic programs are meeting industry needs; organizing and holding the university’s first annual Outdoor Economy Conference; and hosting a televised regional town hall examining the impact of the outdoors and natural resources on job growth. The second annual Outdoor Economy Conference is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 10.

“I am delighted that WCU continues to be recognized as a leader in convening our community around topics that transform lives through economic development,” said WCU Provost Alison Morrison-Shetlar. “Our strength is our entrepreneurial faculty and staff who have expertise and passion for making a difference. WCU is known and recognized as a facilitator of conversations that impact our community, region and state – now and into the future.”

Margo Fliss, chair of the awards committee for the UEDA, said participation in the Awards of Excellence Program “has shown that when these unique and innovative initiatives are given a wider audience to share their successes, they spur further engagement and inspire other professionals and institutions to introduce these best practices in their home regions.”

For information about the WCU initiative, contact Salido at 828-227-2587 or

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