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WNC Business

Advice from local business leaders

Jan 27, 2024 02:57PM ● By Randee Brown

Held annually at Blue Ridge Community College in partnership with the Henderson County Chamber of Commerce and Vision Henderson County Leadership Development, the Henderson County Leadership Conference brings local business leaders together to learn and share recent challenges and strategies to proactively move into the new year.

On November 16, 2023, a keynote panel of leaders from around Henderson County shared their experiences from 2023 as well as predictions and tips that may be useful throughout 2024.

Laura Flores — Real Estate Broker at NextHome WNC Realty

The average price of a single family home has risen to $521,000. Paired with rising interest rates, increased prices have led to a decrease in sales over the last year. There was a slight increase in inventory for the residential market, and the commercial market has approximately one year of inventory available with prices starting at $14 per square foot. Buyers are moving toward requesting seller credits during purchases, which may help buyers with closing costs.

John Mitchell — Henderson County Manager

Across the U.S. and the globe, individuals and businesses are feeling the effects of inflation. After the federal government moved $5 trillion onto its balance sheet, citizens were just beginning to feel the results in the fall of 2023. Wages increased to compensate for rising costs of living, and business owners raised prices to maintain revenue. Local governments are raising taxes to maintain payroll for first responders and other public employees, and outdoor amenities like new trail projects increasing desirability of residential homes could raise real estate prices even further.

Debi Smith — Henderson Tourism Development Authority Board Member, General Manager of Cascades Mountain Resort

Tourism helps local economies in many ways, including providing revenues to the community from occupancy taxes collected from overnight stays. These funds are used to market the area to travelers, and encouraging people to stay longer can help provide more dollars to the community for projects like trails and parks. A challenge for travelers in 2024 are potential government shutdowns which may keep some people at home, and the TDA board is exploring ways to build additional opportunities for travelers to the area.

Cheryl Stuller — Co-owner of Stuller Power Solutions

Finding an available workforce has been a challenge across the entire service industry. High local home prices and lack of rental spaces have given rise to many employees commuting longer distances to work. Paying a living wage is also challenging for businesses, and many are raising prices to compensate. Working with the public school system and local community colleges, Stuller hopes teaching students it’s possible to earn a living wage in the industry will expand small service companies.

Daniel Gibbs - COO of Benton Roofing

Industry strains like supply chain challenges and personnel shortages mostly dissipated by the end of 2023, but many in the returning workforce prefer hybrid work models that may not be available for some positions. Construction business owners must now keep up with inflation, provide competitive wages, and juggle a volatile market in a sector with an extreme amount of growth. It is important that leaders are giving employees opportunities to participate in that growth, and Benton Roofing is working with Blue Ridge Community College’s apprenticeship program to demonstrate potentially good career paths in trades. They are also developing systems to streamline operations and provide positive employee experiences.

Mike Santacrose  — Owner of Arabella Breakfast & Brunch

Revenues of many restaurants in the region decreased from February to November of 2023 by 20% to 30%. Owners constantly adjusted prices in anticipation of products' fluctuation, many of which have increased 100% since early 2020, and labor costs have increased by 50% in the same time frame. Instead of focusing on problems, adjusting focus to people, products, and procedures can help businesses improve. Dialing in profit margins and concentrating only on things that directly affect customers helps business owners do the best with what they have. Properly training employees and knowing who to keep is also significant in reaching success.

Daryl Waldrop — Co-owner of Pisgah Forest Gem Mine, Bigfoot, Ammo and More, and Fins on Fifth

As the economy stings many consumers, people don’t have as much expendable money as they once did. Staying involved in organizations like the Small Business Center, Tourism Development Authority, and Chamber of Commerce allows business owners to continue learning ideas that may help their business stay afloat. Business owners can’t continue to do the same things and stay afloat; they must be willing to be imaginative and stay current with what customers need and want. 

Lisa Waldrop — Co-owner of Pisgah Forest Gem Mine, Bigfoot, Ammo and More, and Fins on Fifth

While some business owners are cutting employees or advertising to combat low profit margins, maintaining a position of working in a business can deplete the owner’s ability to run the business. Hiring younger employees and providing hands-on training for how they can greet people and increase sales can be more time consuming, but can lead to more business-building opportunities.

Alan Ward — Founder of Saint Paul Mountain Vineyards

Volatility in the world will always exist, but business owners must be willing to take chances. Evaluating what may be coming next, reinvesting in the business, and maintaining a loyal group of people to work with can keep customers coming back. Having a passion for the business and having a plan to focus on goals will help owners overcome obstacles. Maintaining a confident attitude and looking for opportunities in areas of adversity can help “up the game” on quality and engagement, leading to the creation of a better business.

Ruth Burge — Vice Chairperson at Community Foundation of Henderson County

In 2023, nonprofits participated in lots of collaboration and some sharing of leader management. With some government funding ceasing after COVID, a reduction in charitable gifts, and a buildup of needs for basic community services, workforce and other challenges have been exacerbated in the nonprofit industry. Returning to proven fundraising techniques involving face-to-face interactions with potential donors and applying for grants an organization has the potential to receive without restructuring can help acquire funding without overwhelming staff, which historically has been seen as results of leadership persistence.

Chris Hykin — US General Manager at Tageos Inc.

Some businesses have had a slower-than-expected start to becoming fully operational in 2023, which highlighted the necessity of sharing clear messages of priorities to team members. As growth rates increase for businesses, the next step is managing aspects of momentum including timelines, budgets, employees, and the supply chain. Measuring these aspects can clarify what business owners can do to achieve their next goal.