SWNC Opportunity Initiative (Opt-In)

Data and cartography support for planning in the seven westernmost counties of North Carolina
A map of the SWNC Opt-In region showing the preferred scenario

The Southwestern North Carolina Opportunity Initiative (Opt-In) was an ambitious collaboration to better understand and inform the choices facing local governments, businesses, and families in the seven westernmost counties of North Carolina and in the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians.

www.optinswnc.org  »

Working Together to Better Understand and Inform Choices

Opt-In was a year-long effort to fill in research gaps, identify opportunities, and test alternative strategies to inform decision making about economic development, transportation planning, and the environment in Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon, and Swain Counties, and the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians.

Starting in 2013 and ending in the summer of 2014, the project team produced:

  • A draft Regional Vision that identified what citizens value most and what strategies are likely to maximize opportunities in line with those values.
  • Draft Comprehensive Plans for Cherokee and Graham Counties that connect with the regional vision and set broad goals for infrastructure decision making at the county level.
  • A Comprehensive Transportation Plan for Graham County that focuses even more directly on transportation priorities.

The Opt-In project was an opportunity exploration, not a legislative undertaking. None of the products of the process bind the counties or the municipalities to any path forward. The project’s goals were, first, to identify a broad, consensus-driven vision, then to facilitate a collaborative sorting of ideas and strategies most likely to realize that vision for counties, towns, and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Implementation will be handled by local governments.

Opt-In | A Regional Perspective

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Opt-In | The Regional Investment Guide

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The Southwestern Commission, the council of government organization that represents the counties and municipalities of the seven-county region, was project manager. A team of expert consultants chosen by a committee from the region facilitated community discussions that shaped the regional vision and the three county plans.

As part of the consultant team, UNC Asheville’s NEMAC provided geographic information system (GIS) support for the project, and created visualization products and other outreach and decision-support materials, including the project’s GIS-based, online interactive map viewer, printed maps and posters, videos, and GIS-based animations. NEMAC staff also worked with the project team to help identify modeling indicators to represent, compare, and monitor pertinent development metrics and helped to develop possible growth scenarios in the region.

In addition to general GIS and outreach support, NEMAC also developed parcel-based land use data for each of the seven counties, as well as regional suitability models. Three suitability models were developed in the areas of agriculture; conservation; and jobs, housing, and infrastructure. Conflict models were also developed between conservation and jobs, housing, and infrastructure and between agriculture and jobs, housing, and infrastructure. All of this information ultimately fed into a final preferred scenario map, which was the centerpiece for looking at how and where future development should occur.


Opt-In was funded by the Federal Highway Administration, the North Carolina Department of Transportation, and the Appalachian Regional Commission and was administered through the Southwestern Commission.