Asheville: Mecca in the Mountains

Eclectic, vibrant Asheville breeds (and brews) entrepreneurship

Asheville, NC, is consistently ranked as one of the best places to (pick one) live, visit, travel to, or do business in, not only in the US but in the world, according to recent annual polls and surveys in a variety of top magazines and travel guides. It’s also buzzing with innovation and entrepreneurship.

Don’t just take our word for it

We met with Clark Duncan, senior vice president of economic development for the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, and Josh Dorfman, an environmental entrepreneur, who has built his career at the intersection of sustainability, technology, and media, to talk about the innovation going on in the city.

“Asheville has a strong creative and entrepreneurial spirit,” Duncan said. “Companies both large and small are leading the way in terms of innovation, and our scientific and technical services industry has experienced a 29% increase over the last 10 years.”

Companies driving innovation

Driving that expansion are companies such as GE Aviation, a top force behind innovation, where a revolutionary aircraft engine material is manufactured. Avadim Health, a rapidly growing life sciences company headquartered here, is listed on the Inc. 5000 and is continuously developing an advanced portfolio of health and wellness products.

Through Venture Asheville, a chamber initiative supporting high-growth entrepreneurs, Asheville became home to Brightfield Transportation Solutions, which focuses on solar vehicle charging stations, and Elite HRV, which uses smartphone technology to make heart rate variability data easily accessible to individuals and organizations.


Known variously as “The Land of the Sky” and “San Francisco of the East,” Asheville recently added a new nickname: “Climate City” because of The Collider, a nonprofit organization launched in 2016 whose mission is “to help the world prepare, adapt and become resilient in the face of intensifying climate change.” Josh Dorfman is chief executive officer of The Collider.

This year, science educator Bill Nye and Chicago Public Radio’s Greta Johnsen, host of the Nerdette podcast, will take deep dives into the science of climate change and its effects on the economy.

Dorfman said, “Asheville [is] home to many of the world’s leading climate scientists in government, academia, and the private sector. That combination creates potent opportunities to build local entrepreneurial ventures that help communities and companies around the world adapt to the increasing stresses caused by climate change.”

Asheville culture

Asheville is an outdoor-lover’s paradise and a haven for arts, music, and culture; a tourist destination and homey small town; a microbrewery capital and a burgeoning recovery community; a foodie’s dream and a health-conscious, eco-minded hotspot.

Nestled between the Great Smoky and Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville draws millions of tourists, fueling a bustling economy that serves a diverse population and continues to draw an influx of transplants.

The Biltmore

Asheville’s Biltmore Estate, the palatial former home of George Washington Vanderbilt II, is now a major tourist destination that covers more than 8,000 acres and is one of the largest private employers in the area. The Biltmore boasts its own resort, winery, and village and plays host to outdoor summer concerts.

Live music plays an outsize role in Asheville too, with iconic venues such as The Orange Peel and The Grey Eagle, and the city’s US Cellular Center hosting major touring acts and new artists in rock, jazz, bluegrass, country, and everything in between. Downtown is alive with street performers and boasts brewpubs on seemingly every corner. Asheville is also home to Moog, the synthesizer that revolutionized electronic music.

The general vibe

The city has an easy-going, jeans-and-sandals vibe and the serene mountain setting belies a pulsing business, tech, and innovation culture. For entrepreneurs, Asheville is home to a vibrant co-working community and a thriving startup economy, with active support of business, civic, and government leaders.

Asheville’s eclectic, seemingly contradictory elements coexist peacefully amid its laid-back, live-and-let-live culture. The demographic mix — artists and musicians, scientists and business leaders, innovators, and politicians — combines to create a synergistic atmosphere.

Asheville, Key Data

City population: 86,236
County population: 250,539
Median household income: $43,681
Gender dispersion: 48.1% M, 51.9% F
Average age: 37.9
Average home cost: $278,551

Average apartment rental: $830

Higher Education in Asheville

University of North Carolina Asheville
Western Carolina University
Mars Hill College
Warren Wilson College
Montreat College
Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College

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