How NC Mountain Communities became a Hotbed of Glassmaking

We often hear about "industry clusters" as a driver of economic development – groups of interdependent businesses in the automotive sector, health care, wood products, manufacturing, etc. But rarely do we think about smaller clusters, of local foods, music or, in this example, art glass. In this report from the Daily Yonder, author Stuart Rosenfeld describes how the Toe River Valley of Appalachian North Carolina have become a "world-class rural glass art cluster" which "includes almost 60 glass artists, suppliers, educational programs, art galleries, studio tours, and an incubator for art glass enterprises."

While the area has recently begun promoting the art glass cluster as a tourism attraction, the article asks an even more important question:

 

Can a micro-cluster be a catalyst for a rural region’s economy?
Art glass in the Toe River Valley has all of the attributes of a cluster: a concentration of  enterprises; a social infrastructure;  suppliers;  education; and innovation. (The innovation is both in the form and design of the products but also in the technologies of the furnaces and tools.)  
 
But the real power of this particular cluster is that it’s embedded in a much larger art cluster that includes artists in many other mediums, which leads to many new applications and art forms that mix glass with other mediums.  
 
For example, local home builders and interior decorators are using glass art and other crafts as architectural elements in their work.
 
More importantly, the art glass cluster contributes to a creative milieu that attracts and keeps talented people in a rural region and it gives the region distinctiveness among the growing array of creative places.
As we strive to think differently about Appalachia's economy, and to explore new ways of development, the Toe River Valley is a great lesson.