North Carolina Economic Development Guide

2015

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PROVIDED BY SYLVANSPORT 35 N O RT H C A R O L I N A E CO N O M I C D E V E LO P M E N T G U I D E I n this wooded valley north of Asheville, the French Broad River's ripples rush to rapids as it tumbles through the Great Smoky Mountains toward Tennessee. It's one of the world's oldest rivers, and this portion — Section 9 — is a favorite of kayakers. Adam Masters knows it well. He has spent years paddling down whitewater rivers across the western Carolinas, but on this day, he's seeing things differently. Face down on what looks like a surfboard- kayak hybrid, he's furiously paddling with fl ipperlike gloves. Though the spray obscures the boulders in his path, he clearly sees his Bellyak's potential. Whitewater paddlers sit upright in their kayaks. Around their waist is a membrane. It stretches to the hull, keeping water out of the boat. Novices can fi nd themselves stuck underwater when the strong seal makes escaping their over- turned craft diffi cult. "I always knew one of the biggest deterrents to kayaking was the spray skirt and the fear people have of being trapped," says Masters, 34. So he began tinkering about a decade ago. "One day, I decided to lie on top of my kayak and hand paddle down a little stream. It was absolutely exhilarating from that perspective." He started experimenting, chopping kayaks, gouging torso-shaped cavities in their decks and reshaping their hulls. His company, Weaverville-based Bellyak Inc., was awarded a provisional patent for its namesake creation in 2010, and production began two years later. The Bellyak is taking Masters for a wild ride that's not slowing. Every day more kayakers discover the freedom its design offers. Three hundred of them paid at least $700 for a Bellyak in the fi rst year of sales, which ended June 30, 2013. He expected to sell about 1,000 in 2014, shipping some as far as New Zealand. His customers are as diverse as their locations. Some are recreational paddlers. Others are amputees, paraplegics and other wounded veterans whose doctors at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, B Y E D W A R D M A R T I N Outdoor-gear manufacturers make play work for them in western North Carolina. ADVENTURE Outdoor-gear companies require typical economic resources plus outdoor space to test their creations and keep their worker-adventurers happy. Western North Carolina is fi lled with parks, rivers and mountains. Those natural assets contribute to the region's quality of life, which outdoor-gear manufacturers fi nd as important to success as the workers, capital and connections they fi nd there. Solution: Challenge: Brevard-based SylvanSport LLC manufactur cycles can tow. estern Nor arolina. C A S E S T U D Y Western North Carolina BUSINESS

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