The Nice Outside finds an financial dwelling within the NC mountains ::


By Abbey Slattery, WRAL Digital Solutions

This article was written for our sponsor, the Watauga County Economic Development Commission.

Nestled among the peaks of the Appalachian Mountains, Watauga County’s streams, forests and bluffs are home to all manner of outdoor recreation.

For local business owners, some of these outdoor hobbies have turned into professional careers.

Goose Kearse first went mountaineering in high school with his friend Woody Keen. After graduating from Appalachian State University, Keen founded Misty Mountain Threadworks in 1985 after designing and manufacturing his own climbing harness. A few years later, Kearse came on board – and now he serves as the company’s CEO.

Since its inception, Misty Mountain Threadworks has grown into an internationally distributed brand, and Watauga County has played an important role in the company’s success.

“Being in the mountains allows us to climb and the people who work here are climbers. We use this fact to ensure we design and manufacture the best climbing harnesses. We’re constantly adding new features and we hire the people who work here, not just because of their skills, but because they’re climbers and passionate about the activity,” Kearse said. “We also have a lot of people who work for us, mainly in manufacturing and sewing, who are local people who were born and raised in the county. There is a great workforce here and we have employees who have been here for 25 years.”

For Kearse, employing mountaineers makes all the difference in developing and perfecting their products.

“There is just so much about this space that drives what this company is about, which is making gear that lets you get outside and experience rock climbing fully and comprehensively. Once you get into it, you don’t want to have to worry about your belt being strong enough or dealing with it pinching you in the wrong places – you’re relieved of it all and only thinking about the next three feet.” said Kearse. “It’s very cathartic when you’re moving, whether it’s rock climbing, paddling or mountain biking, and being out in the flow. For us, there is no better place to do that than Boone and Watauga County.”

Misty Mountain isn’t the only Watauga County company that relies on a passionate, locally based workforce.

At Boone’s Footsloggers, the outdoor and travel outfitter’s staff are active throughout the community—a community that’s growing fast.

“We have employees and an owner who serve on the boards of a few state parks. We have people who are deeply committed to creating the kind of community we all want to live in because we believe it’s so important,” said Thea Young, Buyer, Merchandiser and Manager at Footsloggers. “I’ve definitely seen a lot of growth in our community, as well as an increasing appreciation for this amazing area that we live in and the support of outdoor endeavors through regional tourism.”

The Footsloggers and Misty Mountain teams are committed to supporting the county as a whole. For example, Footsloggers has regular partnerships with nonprofit organizations like the Blue Ridge Conservancy, Western Youth Network, Friends of the High Country State Parks, the Appalachian Theater and more.

Both Young and Footsloggers owner Wayne Miller have always stood up for the community – and the community has shown their support in return.

“It’s pretty boring just coming to work and trying to make money. But when you come to work, do your best, and share a portion of your profits with people and organizations who need it, it gives your work new meaning,” Miller said.

“Personally, I am committed to the fact that if we run a successful business, we should give back to our community,” added Young. “We definitely see a lot more community members in our stores than college students. We feel very supported by our locals and are so grateful that we have the opportunity to make the area more fun for people to explore.”

Kerese agrees. While there are big plans for Misty Mountain’s future – including new harness designs and retail expansion – there is no other place in the world where Misty Mountain could find a home.

“It was a good ride and we really enjoy being here. There’s no other place I want to do business because once you know the story of Misty Mountain, it translates into our products,” said Kearse. “We don’t make hardware, we don’t make ropes, we don’t make climbing shoes — we just really focus on the harnesses, and we’re really good at that. Being climbers ourselves, we don’t just build things because they look cool — they work well and there’s no better place to use them than Watauga County.”

This article was written for our sponsor, the Watauga County Economic Development Commission.

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