Economic impact of tourism here doubles over 15 years

Wil Petty

April 22, 2014

Tourism-related spending in Ashe County has doubled over the last 15 years, according to a presentation made by the Ashe Chamber of Commerce to the Ashe Board of Commissioners during its regularly scheduled meeting on Monday, April 21.

In 2012, tourism contributed $46.55 million to the county economy, compared to $23.68 million in 1998, said Scott Ballard, chairman of the Ashe Chamber Board of Directors.

“It doesn’t seem that long ago, but tourism in (Ashe) County has doubled in that time,” said Ballard

The tracking of the economic impact of tourism in the county began in 1991. In that year, $14.3 million was generated as a result of visitor spending.

In the presentation, Ballard showed how tourism spending in Ashe compared to other counties in the High Country. Tourism spending in Watauga County is approximately $211 million, Avery County makes $103.7 million and Wilkes County is $63.5 million.

Ashe County did have higher tourism spending than Caldwell County ($46.54 million) and Alleghany County ($21.9 million). Statewide, tourism spending was a $19 billion industry.

Ballard believes the expansion of U.S. 221 will increase tourism spending in Ashe County.

“My takeaway on this is the potential impact of four-laning (U.S.) 221 and the question of if we wait for the tide of humanity to find its way on that four-lane,” he said. “Do we wait until that tide approaches us or do we begin thinking about how to make a good first impression on those folks that are going find Ashe County and West Jefferson, Warrensville, Lansing and Jefferson, when that four-lane is completed?”

Ballard also offered a different perspective on the impact tourism has on the local economy - one that allows county residents to pay lower annual taxes.

“In terms of amenities our county provides, the services our county provides, if we didn’t have the kind of tourism we are enjoying right now, each county resident would have to pay an additional $405.”

According to the presentation, in 2012, tourists in the county spent an average of $127,534 daily. The tax revenues related to tourism accounted for state taxes totaling $2.34 million in 2012, and local taxes totaling $2.45 million.

While the Chamber focuses primarily on promoting local business, tourism is used as an economic development strategy.

“We are really about promoting businesses,” Ballard said. “We are one of the most inclusive Chambers of Commerce in the region.”

Closing the presentation, Ballard emphasized the importance of jobs created by tourism in Ashe County.

“Jobs created by tourism in Ashe County will not be exported to another country,” he said.

Following the presentation, Commissioners commented on the importance of the Chamber of Commerce to the county.

“I cannot say enough about how much the Chamber has done for our area,” said Commissioner William Sands.

Commissioners Larry Rhodes and Gerald Price also expressed appreciation for the Chamber’s efforts.

“I offer my appreciation to (the Chamber members) for what you do,” Rhodes said. “The Chamber is one of the first contacts that tourists and businesses make.”

Wil Petty can be reached at (336) 846-7164 or on Twitter @WilPetty.