On March 12, as members and guests (including me and fellow Xpress journalist David Forbes) chowed down on Chick Fil-A biscuits, yogurt and coffee, I spied Jerry Vehaun, Buncombe County’s Emergency Services director and Woodfin mayor. There was former Buncombe commissioner Jesse Ledbetter, and CIBO director Mike Plemmons, who (as always) played amiable hosts while folks arrived, grabbed some grub and sat down; then as the speakers geared up, he stepped into the background (that’s standard too).
Another familiar face — long-time member Mac Swicegood — played em-cee, harassing the speakers with friendly jabs (though I’ve seen CIBO members grill speakers till they were burnt toast).
He introduced the guests — Warren Wilson College’s Phil Gibson, the city of Asheville-s financial director Ben Durant and N.C. Sen. Martin Nesbitt. I sipped at some piping-hot coffee and got pen and paper ready. My cohort Forbes lit up his Blackberry and started Tweeting (yes, there’s a generation gap going on here, but I've also found that text-messaging or Tweeting from my semi-smartphone leads to many embarrassing typos and much frustration). Both of us had bucked our usual morning routines, getting up unusually early, in part because we’ve been trying to catch up with Nesbitt for a while. Last year he was named majority leader — perhaps a first for Western North Carolina politician, at least in a long time.
Gibson got first go, inviting CIBO members to sign up as vendors at the Mountain Green conference, coming up in June. Forbes tweets “Gibson: Mtn Green conference, approaching its 4th year, staying steady 'while many conferences are tanking.'" I write in my notebook, “CIBO partner in steer. committee … also AdvWest, Equinox Environ, etc,” then I pause to make a mental note I don’t write down: I had forgotten that CIBO — a generally conservative group of, well, good-old-boy businessmen (there are a few women, but not many) — has been involved with the Mountain Green conference almost since the beginning. I write another tidbit Gibson mentions: “4 yrs ago [local businessman and CIBO member] Bob Deutsch asked if [we’d] hold an event focused on green stuff for businesses. [Gibson says] that being more environmentally aware and choosing green practices “was a budding concern and not the buzzword it is now.”
Forbes tweets another Gibson remark: “Gibson on Warren Wilson: ‘I know many consider us the hippie, granola-munching college, but we are a business’" He continues, pitching CIBO in the direction of their pocket books: Warren Wilson College’s geothermal system saves it money; the Grove Park Inn’s ozone laundry system saves it $2,000 a month. And, by the way, vendors at the Mountain Green conference get treated to a party that includes free beer.
“Say that again,” Swicegood suggests.
“Free beer!” says Gibson.
He also plugs a discount card that the Asheville Homebuilders Association created: For $10, buyers get a variety of deals, good through December: buy-one-get-one-free Asheville Tourist games, ditto for ice-cream scoops at The Hop; a free cheese dip at El Rebozo, 15 percent off services at Suraj Spa & Salon and more. A portion of the proceeds from the discount card helps fund the college’s INSULATE! program, which weatherizes homes for Buncombe’s low-income residents.
The meeting didn’t end there (Durant got grilled about the city’s budget shortfall; Nesbitt countered a question about the potential for the state becoming unionized). But I made another mental note later, after Swicegood ended with the usual, “Let’s go to work!”
Some of those old familiar faces came up to Gibson and handed over the bills for the discount card that pumps money into the INSULATE! program.