Ashe County continues to reap the financial benefits of the High Country’s lucrative tourism industry, as evidenced by the most recent data released by the North Carolina Department of Commerce late last month.
The Board of Commissioners were treated to a presentation by Kay Sexton, chair of the Board of Directors of the Chamber of Commerce, at their regular meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 2.
“In 2013 in Ashe County, $47.71 million was spent on tourism,” Kay Sexton, chairperson of the Chamber board, said. “That’s up from 2009, over $10 million, and it’s up over $1 million from 2012.”
The figure of $47.71 million signifies a 2.5 percent spending increase from the previous year.
In 2009, tourists spent $37.86 million and spending has continued to increase ever since.
“We hope to continue to see these figures grow each year,” Sexton said.
In the six-county area of Ashe, Alleghany, Avery, Caldwell, Watauga and Wilkes counties, tourist spending in Watauga was highest at $216.72 million. Avery was close behind at $104.97 million, followed respectively by Wilkes, Caldwell, Ashe and Alleghany counties. All of the six counties experienced an increase in tourism spending.
According to Sexton, on average, tourists spent a combined $130,712 per day in Ashe in 2013. The impacts of local tourism were felt statewide, too.
Ashe tourists generated $6.83 million in local worker payroll, $2.52 million in local taxes and $2.41 million in state taxes.
“The 2013 tourist spending in Ashe generated paychecks worth almost $19,000 per day,” Sexton said. “It created state taxes worth almost $7,000 and Ashe County taxes worth another almost $7,000.”
Sexton also told the commissioners tourist spending likely prevented commissioners’ from approving a tax increase last year.
“If you take just the tax revenue generated by tourism in Ashe County, the North Carolina state sales tax of 2.41 million and the Ashe County local taxes of 2.52 million, you will arrive at 4.93 million,” Sexton said. “If you divide the households in Ashe County 11,646 into the $4.93 million generated, each household in Ashe County paid $423 less in state and local taxes as a direct result of taxes paid by tourists in 2013.”
“This $423 per household allowed you as commissioners to provide additional benefits to Ashe County citizens, and I’m thinking without this $423, would we possibly have had to provide less services and maybe even consider a tax increase,” Sexton rhetorically asked.
Tourism, according to Sexton, diversifies the economy, brings in new money, increases tax revenue and reduces the tax burden on local families, creates new businesses and jobs and more importantly, improves the appearance of the greater community.
“Today’s visitor may be tomorrow’s investor, and we have seen that happen,” Sexton said. “It improves the appearance of our county.”
Better yet, tourism is a homegrown industry.
“Jobs created by tourism in Ashe County will not be exported to another country,” Sexton said. “We all know, tourism brings people and money to Ashe County.”
Alan Bulluck can be reached at (336) 846-7164 or on Twitter @albulluck.