Tourism front and center in economic development discussion
During an economic roundtable discussion organized by the Haywood County commissioners, tourism was the issue of the day.
Representatives from every town in the county, as well as from the chambers of commerce, the county’s economic development commission, the community college and the tourism development authority attended the gathering.
Representatives from the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority spoke of efforts to organize events and promote the area during the slower tourist months, including an upcoming Fire & Ice Winterfest, and a transition to social media, web and video to reach potential visitors to the area.
“There’s a shortage of things for children to do, especially in the winter,” said Lynn Collins, executive director of the TDA.
There was some discussion about an ice skating rink at the Haywood County Fairgrounds, and Al Matthews, Canton town manager, said lights at the baseball/softball complex in Canton would allow extensive tournament play in the area.
The cost of lighting is around $450,000 because the added regulations for complexes located on abandoned landfills. While grants could possibly fund half of the cost, there’s still a matter of the matching amount, Matthews said after the meeting.
Commissioner Kirk Kirkpatrick gave an update on county property in Jonathan Creek where a park is planned.
He reported a master plan is in place, but funding is a stumbling block.
Collins said communities with a strong sports marketing program fare better during an economic downturn.
Haywood County Commission Chairman Mark Swanger spoke of the need for communication to avoid events that will be in conflict as opposed to attracting a larger number of people to the county. For instance, the county fair is now on the same weekend at the Fines Creek Bluegrass Jam, events that overlap and cater to those with common as opposed to complementary interests.
The group was told of a monthly meeting between those who organize visitor-related events, including the TDA, the chambers of commerce and the downtown organizations.
Group members were enthusiastic about a proposal to add acreage to the Blue Ridge Parkway near Maggie Valley — something that would not only further protect the watershed, but allow an area with natural waterfalls, an abundance of wildlife and more hiking trails.
“There’s a lot of people working on this thing and it could be big for Haywood County and all of Western North Carolina,” said Sammy Carver, a TDA member and landowner who is working toward the effort.
Attendees agreed Haywood has not taken full advantage of the potential to promote the natural beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway that abut the county.
Collins said there is a lot of interest in the Appalachian heritage, including music, arts and culture. Laura Leatherwood with Haywood Community College suggested the soon-to-open creative arts center at the college could be a logical place to showcase events of this nature.
Kirkpatrick asked whether there was something the county could do to promote the county as a whole, not necessarily a single community or event. He suggested possibly paying for a television spot in nearby markets such as Charlotte or Atlanta, something Collins agreed to research.
Kirkpatrick acknowledged that local residents will wonder why economic development talks centered on tourism as opposed to other areas that will create more or better-paying jobs.
Swanger said tourism presents an opportunity for entrepreneurship. Kirkpatrick said business growth, as well as second and retirement homes can all start at a single point — with a visit to the area.