Wednesday, April 17, 2019

WNC Legislative Trip – Trip Report

Last week we sent a powerful group of business leaders to Raleigh for the WNC Legislature along with 8 other area chambers to advocate for issues affecting our area.

Issues discussed included Voting Maps, Rural Broadband Coverage, Industrial Hemp to Medical Marijuana, challenges with hiring skilled employees, and building relationships with area delegates.

Pictured left:  AB Swindell, Linda Gilleland, Jim McDowell, Tony Rand, and Rep Ray Russell outside his office at the legislature during our trip to the WNC Legislative Trip with 8 other Chambers. 
Dates Attended:  April 9-10

Attendees:  Jim McDowell, Tony Rand, Linda Gilleland from Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce, and 50 other attendees from 8 Chambers around the Asheville Area and Western NC

Location:  Raleigh, NC

Tuesday, April 9

2-3PM   Political Strategist’s Overview – Moderated by Joe Stewart, VP of Government Affairs for IIANC (Independent Insurance Agents of NC).  Overview of voting trends, issues, Democratic and Republican strategies for 2020 elections.
-          New voting maps in 2021 for 2022 elections in NC.
-          In 2016 there were more urban legislators than rural

3-4PM   Broadband in Rural NC – Panel discussion of Rural Broadband issues, challenges, and solutions

-          Angie Bailey:  Director, NC Broadband Infrastructure Office:  Informed and updated Chambers on rural broadband in NC.  Provided updates on legislation and impacts on our area.  Importance of rural broadband for education and economic development.  Provided BB statistics for NC.

-          Kathryn de Wit:  Pew Charitable Trusts Rural Broadband Research:  Research update on rural broadband in US, and Pew Charitable Trusts Initiatives to help push access to rural areas.  NC Status

-          Nelle Hotchkiss:  COO NC Electric Co-Ops:  How Electric Co-ops are helping and update on any legislative issues that may be obstacles or incentives.  Updated legislative initiatives to include NC Electric Co-ops in Broadband solutions.  Electric Cooperatives have installed fiber for “smart meters” and grid.

-          Hunter Goosmann:  ERC CEO:  Provided updates on successes in rural areas in the mountains, and technical challenges.  Instrumental in Watauga County receiving $100K grant from the ARC.


-         -  Co-ops need access to USDA Federal Funds
-          - Co-ops can’t partner below market rates
-          - Need access to fiber for secondary and primary backhaul and middle mile for ISPs
-          Referenced S310

4-5PM   Industrial Hemp to Medical Marijuana - informational session and overview of trends

5:30 to 7:30  Legislative Reception with WNC Delegation
-          Representative Ray Russell and Senator Deanna Ballard attended along with legislators from other districts in WNC.

7:30  Dinner at 42nd St. Oyster House with Blowing Rock delegation, Rep. Ray Russell, Kathryn de Wit from Pew Charitable Trusts…..Further discussion on Rural BB issues and initiatives.

Wednesday, April 10

8:45 AM   Meeting with Speaker of the House Tim Moore at the Legislative Building.  Speaker Moore’s main message was about “Spreading Prosperity” in all of NC, not just the urban areas.  The economy of NC is good.  Finding talent and skilled workers is the main challenge of NC’s industries and businesses.  Community Colleges are stepping up to help fill the gaps.

Senator Phil Berger, Senate pro tempore since 2011, met our with our group and discussed in some detail the need to provide rural broadband and appeared to understand the electric co-ops.

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