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WNC Business

'Better Together' at the Western Women's Business Center's 8th Annual Conference

Apr 14, 2023 01:36PM ● By Randee Brown

The 8th Annual Western Women’s Business Center Conference was held April 13 at A-B Tech Community College’s Asheville campus, featuring a Better Together theme.

The sold-out conference featured speakers including host Sarah Benoit, Jennifer Pharr Davis, Bubble Griffin Award Winner Yvette Freeman, Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, Canton Mayor Zeb Smathers, and panelists Erika Anderson, Cristina España, Denise Foy, and Sarah Thompson. Attendees were also treated to a musical performance by Asheville native Kat Williams. 

The conference began with welcome remarks from Carlos Davis with Stand & Deliver, LLC, Amanda Sorrells with Carolina Small Business Development Fund, Zurilma Anuel with Western Women’s Business Center, Jill Sparks with A-B Tech, and Elena Gupta with Small Business and Technology Development Center.

In opening remarks by Jill Sparks, she said the conference feels like a family reunion, and there is truly an energy of ‘better together.’ Sparks said their Small Business Center serves 85% women, and 50% of them don’t have a business when they first begin. “It takes a village to raise a business,” she said.

Secretary of State Elaine Marshall said there have been 1.8 million businesses formed since she was first elected in 1996. “North Carolina has been a hotbed of entrepreneurship for 120 years since the First Flight at Kitty Hawk, and the same entrepreneurial spirit exists here today,” she said. 

“There has been explosive growth in business creation since June of 2020,” Marshall said. “About 650-700 new businesses have been formed every day since 2021.” She said the state ranks number one in business economy in the nation, and in Q1 of 2023, 41,173 new businesses have been created.

Marshall said her concern is 54% of startups are going to the Secretary of State website to learn how to start a business, and she believes entrepreneurs should go to their local resources and support organizations first to gain a better understanding and deeper community support. She and her team created the Rural RISE NC initiative to connect entrepreneurs with mentors, business counselors, funding sources, and more, allowing increased education and support for business owners.

Panelists shared inspiration and tips for women in business including “find your tribe,” “say yes to life” and “trust your gut feeling,” “work for your own standard,” and “don’t resist reality but work with it.”

Jennifer Pharr Davis, former owner of Blue Ridge Hiking Company, said owning a small business is one of the best ways to create work-life balance and spend time with family. She also said it’s important to have a place to recharge.

“Nature is a place where I didn’t have to respond or do or produce,” Davis said. “I can think thoughts through to completion or not think at all. That feels like peace. We all need those moments, especially as business owners.”

Canton Mayor Zeb Smathers shared memories of his grandmother who was a “tough southern woman,” and one of the last things he remembers hearing her say is to “remember who you are.” He said that is what brought this group together today, and that is what will be brought into the future. “There is power in being who you are,” he said.