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Can’t do anything without government


By Leslee Kulba-It was music to the ears. Finally, the conversation in the Buncombe County Commissioners’ chambers had substance. In contrast to the usual fare of world’s problems that never get solved, Mike Adams, president of Moog Music, was talking about music, electronics, and something at which he excels: business.

Taking over the discussion was Emmy Parker, senior brand manager for the company. The team announced a remake/remodel of Moogfest. The event, which has traditionally been a party for music lovers, will become what Adams described as an “economic development event.”

The festival began in New York City in 2004, and moved to Asheville in 2009, when the company relocated its business to Asheville’s Broadway, with a little help from ARRA funding. The event was a great draw, but the Tourism Development Authority had some suggestions.

For one thing, the event was held Halloween weekend, coinciding with peak leaf season. For another, it ran on the weekend. In other words, hoteliers’ beds were already stuffed with heads. Moog listened, and so this year, the event will run from Wednesday through Sunday, and it has been moved to the last week in April.

Since parties and days off are normally weekend affairs, Moogfest had to change to draw mid-week travelers. That is why it is now being branded as a mind-expanding business event, a networking opportunity for entrepreneurs and hipsters interested in the cutting edges of music, electronics, acoustics, computers, and how technology resonates with human consciousness.

A lot of Moogfest will remain the same. Loads of performing artists have signed up, including as headliners the Pet Shop Boys, MIA, Flying Lotus, and Dillon Francis. Speakers will include Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer; the indispensible Herbert Deutsch, who was in on the ground floor with Bob Moog; and William Kurth, a University of Iowa professor specializing in the study of plasma waves in space. Another tradition to be continued is the Circuit Bending Contest. This is an opportunity for geeks to come up with a new sound for less than $70.

The contents of the workshops have yet to be announced, but VIP packages include “two three-hour synth-building workshops with the Moog engineers where you will have the opportunity to build, modify, and take home your unreleased Moog synthesizer.”

Attracting a clientele more instrumental to the music industry than aspiring air guitarists, the reinvented event is patterned somewhat after South by Southwest (SXSW). With a focus on emerging technologies, the event attracts 15,000 to 20,000 techies to Austin every March to share and learn. The SXSW Music Festival has grown to showcase 2,200 artists playing at over 100 venues. SXSW is a profitable enterprise that now employs 172 fulltime employees. It is estimated the economic impact of SXSW in 2012 was $190.3 million.

The new Moog concept had traction. It integrated economic sectors that are popular and robust with a lot of room for innovation. It exuded cool factor, and the audience applauded.

Then, Adams broke the bad news. He said he bet the commissioners were wondering why he was coming before them. Adams said he liked the idea enough to shell out $3 million, but he could only lose a few hundred thousand the first year. Sadly, with all the money in the music industry, it doesn’t look like enough can be wrung from the private sector.

The City of Asheville had already committed to contribute $90,000. Chair David Gantt said the county would look into seeing what it could spring.

Also Indicative of a Shrinking Private Sector –

By a unanimous vote, the commissioners approved allowing Plasticard Locktech to apply for tax-free bond financing in an amount not to exceed $4 million. The commissioners had to approve the issuance after a public hearing, but the public was not given any information about what kind of expansion Plasticard would be undertaking or why conventional financing was not being pursued. About all that was shared was that “approximately 45-50 jobs will be created or saved.”

The commissioners were content to know Plasticard was the world’s leader in producing cards with magnetic strips, and its international headquarters is located in Buncombe County. There was no mention of a but-for test, and any aspersions about corporate welfare were to be cast on the state as the creator of the Industrial Facilities and Pollution Control Financing Authority.

As the Biltmore Zones –

The commissioners approved two changes to its zoning code. One represented the housekeeping exercise all local governments in the state are following to become compliant with recent minor changes to state law. The other had Biltmore written all over it.

Citizen Jerry Rice, who has been religiously attending commissioners’ meetings for years, could see a pattern. The Biltmore Company has a way of agitating activists looking out for the little guy. Biltmore doesn’t break any laws, it just has enough clout to write laws to legitimize what it wants to do. And so it was with a request to rewrite the county’s zoning ordinance to add a new zoning option for conference centers.

Commissioner Mike Fryar wasn’t impressed. “Why did we come up with an idea to infringe peoples’ property rights one more time?” he asked. Zoning Administrator Josh O’Conner, who was presenting the proposal, begged a rephrasing.

Fryar attempted to clarify without pointing any fingers, but the general nature of the specific legislation wasn’t reinforced when Biltmore sent an attorney to represent them in supporting the changes. Rice inquired about the number of businesses that would be affected. He said all concerned property owners should be surveyed to see where they stand. O’Conner indicated all six or seven had been kept in the loop as the crafting of the ordinance proceeded.

Fryar’s peers were of the opinion that the change would increase flexibility. Fryar cast the lone vote against the special legislation, but he concurred with the other commissioners in approving a waiver of rezoning fees for property owners who would be affected by the ordinance.

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