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How local companies are helping make Asheville the healthiest city in the USA

Have you heard of Asheville? Not too many on the European side of the Atlantic have. It is a relatively small city of less than 90,000 people, nestling between the Blue Ridge Mountains and Great Smoky Mountains in west North Carolina. It does, however, have the right to claim that it’s a little bit special.  Stunning scenery, historic mansions, and a thriving arts scene led Forbes to name it as one of the top 15 coolest places in the world to visit in 2018.

Asheville has just created another claim to fame. It has been named the city with the healthiest eating in the US for the post-holiday period. According to Grubhub, the US mobile and online food ordering giant, the city posted a healthy eating score which is the best of any in the US and a staggering 102% above the national average.

What sort of dynamic could be going on? There is no doubt some parts of the US eat more healthily than others but this is a statistical outlier, markedly outside the norm! What sort of companies are being so influential in getting people to behave so differently to the country norm?

Firstly, meet Mission Health – North Carolina’s 6th largest healthcare system and the only not-for-profit independent community hospital system in its immediate region. It is the biggest employer in Asheville with 12,000 people plus 2000 volunteers.

It has been named a Best and Brightest in Wellness company for the 3rd year running by the National Association for Business Resources. The award is designed to celebrate companies that are going beyond the business norm and are exemplary in creating a healthier environment for employees, patients and the wider community.

So how have they made a critical difference because in truth every healthcare system aspires to having impact?

Certainly, the employees have access to a wide range of programmes with wellness at the forefront of everything they do e.g. stopping smoking, weight loss, strength, flexibility, nutrition counselling etc etc. But there is nothing revolutionary in that – you will find many other healthcare systems that offer much the same.

Being recognised as exemplary means that there is another dynamic going on which is making this billion dollar-plus business stand out.

We live in a world where 99.9% of our companies are structured the same way. It’s a “command and control” system that is only as strong as the person at the very top allows it to be. In the case of Mission Health this is Ronald A. Paulus, who is ranked at no 13 of the most influential leaders by Modern Healthcare. Shortly after becoming President and CEO in 2010, Dr Paulus launched his vision of what he called a BIG(GER) Aim. This was a multi-faceted quality initiative designed to deliver every person with their desired outcome. In other words, an exceptional outcome and experience for every patient, family and team member.

Clearly there was a lot more to this than the vision, but the supporting initiatives resulted in 40% lower than expected mortality for the severity of illness or in numbers terms – 500 patients being saved every year. Clearly once the patients are out of hospital, then there is every incentive to keep them out and healthy as long as possible – which is where the programmes that include healthy nutrition come in.

Sheila Meadows, Head of HR commented “Workplace wellness is not a trend but a practical necessity.  They benefit our team members, our patients and the company as a whole”. What is more surprising is how much this sort of initiative can contribute to society as a whole.

Mission Health may be the largest but certainly not the only standout company in the North Carolina area.

Earth Fare is also based in Asheville and one of the largest natural and organic food retailers in the country. They have just released the first edition of their healthy lifestyle magazine – The Clean Plate: A Guide to Living Longer. Earth Fare has a vision to create the highest food Quality Standards in the industry with compelling value, friendly and knowledgeable service, and a great customer experience. The whole idea is to pull back the curtain and expose the realities of the traditional US food market place. It aims to provide shoppers with surprising facts about what happens before a product finds its way to the shelf with scientifically-backed evidence about why what we eat matters. More importantly, the magazine informs readers how easy it is to adopt clean eating habits. It walks the reader through every category of the store, outlining their approach to meat & seafood, pantry staples, prepared foods, bakery, specialty, and wellness & beauty products, plus why the Earth Fare difference matters. Topics range from the dangers of consuming animal products treated with antibiotics to the importance of “Cleaning up” cleaning supplies. The magazine also highlights many new Earth Fare Private Label products, giving shoppers the opportunity to make healthy choices at an incredible value. Shoppers can feed a family of four each weekday for an average for $2.50 per person.

Companies that extend beyond their P&L vision to their customers and employees fare better. This has been a message that is starting to gain momentum in many industries although it is probably true to say that many still don’t always walk what they talk.

Perhaps more surprising is the impact these companies have in their communities. They are not the only reason why Asheville scored 102% better for healthy eating coming into 2018 than the US average but it at least gives an indicator to what is possible when companies get driven by a higher calling than P&L impact!

Charles Bennett

Founder & CEO. Charles is an acknowledged leader in customer-driven performance change using both best practice and emerging next practice perspectives. He leads, mentors and coaches in both strategic and operational initiatives. A strong believer is the potential for "supercompany performance" he innovates using next practice thinking and methods to enhance the business. He researches heavily to retain his reputation as a thought leader, which he has applied across 40 countries, multiple sectors and companies such as Citibank, Nielsen, Microsoft, Vodafone, Tracker and governments in Middle East and Asia. Contributes to business journals and often invited as a speaker or chairman to events all over the world.