‘A playground for the creative class’

Rockingham seeks grant to spearhead Uwharrie region tourism effort

By Kevin Spradlin

The Rockingham City Council on Tuesday approved a grant application that, if approved, would put the city at the vanguard of an effort to increase tourism in the Uwharrie region.

Five million people live within a two-hour drive of Rockingham and the nearby counties of Davidson, Montgomery, Rowan, Stanly and Anson. Davie, Randolph and Moore counties also could be included in the study that could focus on leveraging motorsports, agri-tourism and outdoor recreation.

MacKenzie Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Horse riding is a favorite activity on the trails surrounding Morrow Mountain in Stanly County.

MacKenzie Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Horse riding is a favorite activity on the trails surrounding Morrow Mountain in Stanly County.

The area includes attractions such as Uwharrie National Forest, Morrow Mountain Stat Park, scenic lakes and rivers, Town Creek Indian Mound, the North Carolina Zoological Park, golf at Pinehurst and much, much more.

“Millions visit the area, but few stay overnight, which limits visitor spending,” the grant applications stated. “The area needs to link attractions and increase tourism infrastructure to encourage more visitors and longer stays.”

The city is seeking $25,000 from the North Carolina Department of Commerce’s Rural Economic Development Division. The money would fund the hiring of a destination research consultant that would complete an asset inventory, visitor analysis and branding exploration and then use that information for business recruitment, including local entrepreneurial development.

Results of the consultant’s work would be presented at a regional forum, tentative scheduled for May, that would highlight the benefits of regional marketing.

“Tourism is one of the 10 target industries identified in the December 2013 North Carolina Jobs Plan,” notes the completed grant application submitted by the city. “The plan also speaks of the need for rural prosperity. The rural Uwharrie region is subject to profound economic challenges and pressures due to a loss of manufacturing and industrial activities in recent years. While tourism is not a silver bullet, it allows for job creation that can’t be exported and is ideal for entrepreneurship such as kayak outfitters, bed and breakfast operators, taxidermists, etc.”

MacKenzie Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Lake Tillery is a hotbed of water recreation activity, including fishing and paddling.

MacKenzie Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Lake Tillery is a hotbed of water recreation activity, including fishing and paddling.

In his written comments to City Council members on Tuesday, Rockingham City Manager Monty Crump cited a series of statistics. Echoing the grant application that noted tourism is only a piece of the economic puzzle, figures indicate tourism revenue is on the rise:

* In 2013, Richmond County tourism generated $44.2 million, a 4.5 percent increase from 2012;
* More than 400 county jobs directly relate to tourism and travel, generating $7.61 million in payroll in 2013;
* 2013 state and local tax revenues associated with travel totaled $3.1 million, creating a tax savings of $67.31 for each Richmond County resident;
* In 2012, Richmond County ranked 69th among the state’s 100 counties in per capita revenues from tourism; and
* In 2012, Richmond County ranked 62nd among 100 counties in total revenue (the rankings remain unchanged through 2013).

The grant will fund efforts on how to attract visitors from nearby urban areas to the rural counties “to increase jobs and tax revenue through increased visitor spending.”

The grant, which is specifically for underserved and limited resourced (ULR) areas, would end with “the goal of pooling resources to better market and promote tourism in the future.”

The grant application indicates the state Jobs Plan aims to attract “retirees and the creative class.”

“The Uwharrie region can serve as a playground for the creative class and for retirees looking for cultural and beautiful rural natural outdoor experiences, all within a one- to two-hour drive for over 5 million nearby urban residents.”

The North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Bicycling Tourism Marketing Study, at a cost of $21,000 from state funds, would “form (the) foundation and much groundwork for the more comprehensive (broader scope) planned in this proposal.”

If the grant is awarded, the city would move fast. It already has plans to retain as program manager Cary resident Lisa Diaz Riegel. Siegel is a tourism development consultant who served nine years as executive director for the Natural Heritage Trust Fund within the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

The state’s Economic Development Partnership NC already has researched and identified the state’s top three destination marketing firms — Randall Travel Marketing, Magellan Strategy Group and Young Strategies — and could solicit bids early next month. The study could take up to eight weeks to complete and the information would be presented to stakeholders in May or early June.

“The research and assessment work proposed will provide data to identify needed tourism infrastructure (such as more outfitters or more lodging) and with that data the economic developers can better recruit new businesses and/or target incentives for local entrepreneurs,” the application stated. “We also believe that a county-by-county effort to marketing and promotion, given the extremely limited resources of those counties, is not working.”

The application suggests the creation of a regional tourism authority to “develop a shared vision and a brand. The authority would provide the structure needed to fund the regional effort on a long-term sustainable basis, keeping materials and social media, maps and other tourism information fresh and up-to-date.”

The regional effort would be a first in North Carolina and also has the support of the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, the Tourism-Recreation Investment Partnership for Davidson County, the Piedmont Triad Regional Council, the North Carolina Zoo and Piedmont Together.

Filed in: Latest Headlines, Outdoors

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