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Moog Festival got off to a wired beginning Wednesday afternoon in Asheville when a panel of statewide political, economic development and private industry leaders came together to discuss technical innovation across North Carolina. Although that wasn’t exactly where the conversation went.

“I consider this panel to be the single most important part of the festival,” said Mike Adams, CEO of Moog Music.

The Diana Wortham Theatre was close to its max capacity of 500 audience members, and it’s safe to say that most attendees had never been to a music and arts festival that started with a discussion centered on economic development. The audience, made up mostly of festivalgoers, showed the most enthusiasm around ideas that made North Carolina stronger as a whole.

Bob Geolas, President and CEO of the Research Triangle Park, acknowledged the many successes of the Triangle region, but admitted that this success would not be enough to continue moving the state, or Research Triangle Park, forward for the next fifty years.

“We can’t survive long term as an island of prosperity in a sea of despair,” he said.

Fellow mayoral panelists from Asheville and Hickory had similar things to say about their own communities. Expressing excitement over recent successes such as Sierra Nevada and New Belgium Breweries deciding to locate in Asheville, Mayor Esther Mannhimer said that continued success would depend upon continued relationship building with county, state and federal governments in order to make Asheville more development ready.

And while Mayor Rudy White of Hickory faces a whole different set of challenges being located in a more rural setting, he is working with municipal staff to come up with fresh ideas in a place that is ready for change.

“We’re tired of being a mill town with broken down buildings,” White said, laughing.

Why was he laughing? Because the City of Hickory just approved a new tax credit for business owners that decide to buy and refurbish old mills in the area. The change was spurred by a small business owner that had interest in a specific property.

If the path to economic development through refurbished mills sounds familiar, look no further than Durham. Casey Steinbacher, President and CEO of the Durham Chamber of Commerce, knows a thing or two about old mill space. Downtown Durham used to have 3 million square feet of it. After explaining to the audience how transforming blighted buildings to class-a space has transformed the city’s downtown, it became easier to make the connection between the efforts taken so many years ago in Durham, and those happening now in Hickory.

“We have to work to support our greatest resource, which is our people across the state,” said Geolas.

While the conversation didn’t solely center on the tech economy, or tech innovations, the conversation was still an important one. During his closing, Adams reiterated that North Carolina will only be successful if thinking outside of the box in regards to economic development initiatives continues.

“It doesn’t have to be traditional,” he said. “It’s [economic development] a worldwide competition and I want to see us win that battle.”

The panel, ‘Wiring Silicon Mountain: Nurturing Innovation Through Technology in Western North Carolina,’ was moderated by NC State’s Mike Walden. Former Asheville Mayor, Terry Bellamy, welcomed the crowd and introduced the panelist: the CEO of Moog Music, Mike Adams, Bob Geolas, President and CEO of the Research Triangle Park, Asheville Mayor Esther Mannheimer, Casey Steinbacher, President and CEO of the Durham Chamber of Commerce, and Hickory Mayor Rudy White.

The MoogFest 2014 takes place from April 23-April 26th in downtown Asheville.