‘Inch by Inch, It’s a Cinch’ – Stephanie Pace Brown

Written by Dannie Frey, Breedlove & Company

“’Inch by inch, it’s a cinch,'” quotes Stephanie Pace Brown, President and CEO of the Explore Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau. “It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you take on a really big goal. Just break it down into steps and focus on the first step, then the next, and then the next. That not only makes getting started less intimidating, it also opens the door for discovery and learning along the way. Be kind to yourself and to others. Social media has made it easy to be a critic and pass casual judgement. Sometimes it is hard to remember that we’re all humans making our best efforts with good intentions. There is always more to the story and I think people generally are more complicated, interesting and impressive the more you get to know them.”

Stephanie’s advice to women across Western North Carolina flows through her and her team of talented, committed individuals who work to tell the authentic story of Asheville, which helps to attract visitors by the millions to the community to spend money at local businesses. This impact results in creating economic opportunities for entrepreneurs through sales and jobs. In addition, the businesses and organizations that are supported by visitors make our community a more vibrant and interesting place to live, says Stephanie.

One of the most satisfying aspects of her work is the grants provided to community projects, with over $44 million contributed thus far. Some of the most recent grant recipients include the Asheville Art Museum, The Center for Craft, The Wortham Center for the Performing Arts, The Asheville Community Theater, the Bob Lewis Ballpark, and the Black Mountain College Museum and Art Center.  These projects would not have been possible without funding from the BCTDA and Stephanie is really proud of the opportunity to financially support many cultural and recreational assets for the WNC region.

“I am passionate about tourism because we connect people who visit with life-enriching experiences and the beneficiaries of that work are our fellow community members who can earn a living doing what they love,” remarks Stephanie. Evident in her organization’s impact, her respect for tourism has a direct benefit to many of us who rely on customers for our income. 

“I am passionate about tourism because we connect people who visit with life-enriching experiences and the beneficiaries of that work are our fellow community members who can earn a living doing what they love.” 

Stephanie Brown

Asheville is unique because so many people have found a way to make a living by following their passions – and by sharing those passion with others – through food, beverage, farming, arts, entertainment, tours of all kinds, and outdoor recreation. These economic opportunities would not be possible without the steady flow of visitors available to them due to the work of Explore Asheville.  “I’m really proud that we help support thousands of jobs, and we generate tax revenue that helps to provide core services and social investments that are important to our shared values,” explains Stephanie.

The success of tourism has led to a growing number of tourism motivated entrepreneurs and ventures. We’re seeing all kinds of experience-based businesses sprouting up and thriving across WNC. Last year, 115 new businesses signed up to be partners of Explore Asheville – and it’s all free for them, thanks to the newest platform and mobile application, www.welcometoavl.com

While our community is growing on many fronts, growth also presents challenges and struggles for any region. The Asheville community embarked on a planning process in the spring of 2019 which will result in plans to manage some of the problems associated with tourism, while continuing to harness the benefits. Many WNC residents are eager to find the collaboration and funding to invest in critical infrastructure and community facilities, while still catalyzing the tourism industry.

When looking at the biggest growth opportunities along with struggles to overcome in Asheville, Stephanie had this to say: “One of the things I have always loved about Asheville is a spirit to ‘live and let live.’ I’m concerned now that this attitude is being replaced by the polarization of ideologies that is so common in society today – it’s so easy to attack people you don’t even know and attribute attitudes and beliefs to strangers. I think that people who live here want the same things for everyone in our community, but the problems are complicated and there are no simple solutions. I hope a spirit of cooperation and collaboration can be restored.”

Her background working at Colonial Williamsburg and Mount Vernon for more than a decade, afforded Stephanie with a deep sense of respect for one’s place. She found that working in areas rooted in the creation of a new country instilled in her a sense of service above oneself, and a responsibility to work for a greater good. She feels fortunate to do the work she does because of the beneficiaries living in her community, and strives to keep incorporating those values into Explore Asheville.

Her Role Models

The traits she values can be found in the three women Stephanie chose as having an impact in her life. 

Madeline Delp – “Just a couple of years ago I met a young woman who made a big impression on me. Madeline Delp is Miss Wheelchair USA. Her strength, optimism and resilience are inspirational. She has a philosophy that if you can just have five seconds of courage you can overcome your fears and reach your potential.”

Karen Cragnolin – “One of the people I admire most in Asheville is Karen Cragnolin, the founder of RiverLink. She is one of the people who has had a significant positive impact as an individual on the quality of life for people who live here. Cleaning up the French Broad Riverway has made a great place for recreation and has spurred economic opportunities. That accomplishment took decades to be realized and required a huge amount of courage.”

My Grandmother – “My grandmother was an early influence. She didn’t have an easy life, but she was truly dedicated to helping other people – usually in small ways. She established our family value of giving what you can, whenever you can.” 

Leadership Advice

Integrity, resilience, and empathy are three character traits that Stephanie values.  She believes every person has equal value and she works to honor each individual for who they choose to be. Stephanie is committed to doing “what needs to be done” in both her personal and professional life, which sometimes is harder than it seems.

Looking ahead to 2020, Stephanie says she is really excited about the potential of the Tourism Management and Investment Plan. The process came about in response to the needs of the community that have emerged over the past few years. “We have an opportunity to respond to these needs and to establish a new chapter of using the occupancy tax for a broader range of priorities, says Stephanie. “I really love urban design and placemaking and look forward to continuing to apply occupancy tax resources to address infrastructure needs and build community assets.” 



Stephanie Pace Brown is a 2019 Women’s Leadership Award Winner in the category of “Economy.” This article was written to tell her story and recognize Stephanie as an exceptional female leader in Western North Carolina. A video interview will also be released in the B&Co Blog.