Editor’s note: This article is part of a continuing series about what Asheville, N.C. is doing to build and promote its craft culture. I tagged along with a group of Sanford business leaders on a fact-finding trip to the mountain city. This is what we learned.
I’m sitting in the Asheville airport waiting for a flight back to Sanford after a whirlwind 36 hours in Beer City USA.
I’m here with Frank Hale with The Sanford Chamber of Commerce; Bob Turk, the city of Sanford’s economic development director; Rosangela Parker, the Travel Trade Representative from Orlando North Seminole County Tourism; Allan Jackson, a partner with Sanford Brewing Co.; and Greg Piecora, a partner with Wops Hops Brewing Co. We’ve met dozens of business leaders, learned a lot and enjoyed our day and a half in the mountains. The Locals say it’s hot, but 87 degrees, 40% humidity and a light breeze at mid day is very pleasant for us Florida folk.
Because no good deed goes unpunished when it comes to things in the city of Sanford, the social media set have cast aspersions on the motives of the trip, so let me put a few questions to rest.
Not a dime of taxpayer money was used for me to travel to Asheville. Bob and Rosangela’s travel expenses were paid because of their jobs in economic development and tourism. Everyone else paid their way.
Asheville has a lot of great things going on. The craft beer scene gets a lot of the attention, but it’s much deeper than beer. That’s the reason for the trip: to learn how Asheville developed its craft scene to improve economic development, tourism and quality of life in Sanford. There is a pervasive craft culture in Asheville – from beer to bakeries to retail to everything imaginable – and a strong sense of community.
We did not come up here to learn how to “be” Asheville. In fact, that point was reinforced multiple times by the good folks we met with. Many of the things that have made Asheville successful are present in Sanford already: a pride in our community, a strong arts scene, passionate entrepreneurs and great natural resources. In some ways we are ahead of where Asheville was 20 years ago when this city started it’s Renaissance.
The message we heard time and time again was collaboration and integration. The folks in Asheville told us many stories about how seemingly different groups of people – brewers, farmers, tradesmen, attornies, artists, retailers, hoteliers, city officials, educators, scientists, tourism – constantly search for ways to partner their interests and businesses with the interests and business of their neighbors. The end result is an integration of business that is a win-win for everyone.
I, through The Bokey, will share more about the trip when I get back. As a group we will also be making a presentation to the city commission, and want to meet with many of the stakeholders in downtown and throughout Sanford. The purpose of the trip was not to exclude anyone, and it was not to come back home to tell everybody else what to do. We have been meeting for a few months to gather information about how to leverage the growing craft beer scene in Sanford. This trip is sort of the apex of this stage of the process. This information is not something we want to keep hidden under a basket. We want to share it, we want more input from the community and we want to work together to make Sanford a very, very strong community. The plan at this point is to set up a meeting, probably at the chamber, to have a larger discussion with those interested. I don’t have any details at this time but will share them when I know them.
I hope that answers a few questions. I look forward to y’all’s input in the coming weeks.