Public Policy Institute Plans Conference

To help foster economic growth in the mountains of North Carolina, WCU’s Public Policy Institute will hold a conference, “Western North Carolina 2000: Planning for the New Economy,” next Wednesday.

The conference, which will be held in the Ramsey Center, is designed to bring together many important economic minds in order to map out a plan to bring greater economic development to western North Carolina, where it has historically been lacking. Another purpose is to allow students to hear these experts speak and have a role in long-range economic planning.

“One of the goals of the Public Policy Institute is to get students to meet some of the key officials in policy areas,” said Dr. Gordon Mercer, director of the Public Policy Institute. “Most importantly, we think that young people’s thinking should interface into the policy.”

The conference will open at 7:30 a.m. with displays from Dr. Gloria Houston’s class. At 9 a.m. Dr. John Bardo and Dr. Abdul Taray will give the introduction. There will be three groups of panelists, consisting of economic experts, each speaking on a different aspect of economic development.

Among the panelists who will be presenting are Mac Williams, economic development director for the city of Asheville, John Cecil, president of Biltmore Farms and vice-chair of the UNC Board of Governors, Chief Leon Jones , chief of the Eastern band of Cherokee Indians, and Virgil Smith, president and publisher of the Asheville Citizen-Times.

The conference will conclude after participants meet in policy panels to discuss the future of Western North Carolina’s economy and to recommend solutions for a regional report on economic development.

According to Mercer, plans for the Research Triangle Park in the piedmont area of the state began with discussions similar to those that will take place during the conference.

“Universities and others had to engage in this type of planning before the Research Triangle Park was developed,” said Mercer. “Citizens and universities and leaders and others had to come together and decide what they were going to focus on. We need to do more planning in the West, and we do think it’s very important that our students get involved in this.”

Both Mercer and David Ellis, also of the Public Policy Institute, stress that the planning during the conference is vital to students who seek a high-technology occupation after graduation in this area.

“We’ve been designated a ‘centennial campus,’ and so Western Carolina University is going to try to gain land to bring high-tech and other type firms into the area,” said Mercer. “Of course, that’s going to provide good employment opportunities for our students.”