By the summer of 2014, North Carolina’s seven westernmost counties, the 16 municipalities within and the Sovereign Nation of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians will have wrapped one of the most ambitious economic development, transportation, and environmental research efforts in the region’s history.

The year-long research and strategy-evaluation process is called OPT-IN, short for “Opportunity Initiative.” The double meaning is intentional. The work is all about recognizing opportunities and positioning the region, the counties, the towns and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to make the most of them. The name also emphasizes that this is an invitation — and not a mandate — to collaborate.

A team of consultants chosen through a Request for Proposals process will be led by TSW. Experts on the TSW consulting team will build on work already done in each of the local jurisdictions, search out additional data and best practices requested by citizens and leaders, then facilitate discussions that test alternative approaches to long-range goals. Additional staff support will come from North Carolina’s Appalachian Regional Commission Program.

At every stage in the process, the consultants will be collaborating with the region’s citizens and leaders. For much of the idea collecting and sorting, the team will be working directly with individuals and small groups, building consensus for goals and strategies to test in community-wide sessions later on. Everyone who wishes to participate will have a chance to chime in — in one-on-one conversations, in group meetings, online and through those they choose to represent them.

For more information about the project and opportunities to participate, visit the project’s website.

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