Fair crowd

Franklin County Ag Fair draws visitors from all over as do other area attractions such as the Blue Ridge Folk Life Festival, The Harvester Performance Center and attractions at the lakes.

Gaining a 7% increase in tourism revenue from 2017 — earning the county nearly $117 million — Franklin County tied for fourth place statewide in year over year growth.

Franklin County was topped only by Prince Edward County (12.7%), Rappahannock County (7.8%) and King George County (7.5%), according to Virginia Tourism Corporation from the U.S. Travel Association Tourism.

This exceeded the 4.4% state average for the same period. The region surrounding Roanoke averaged 4.8%. Local tourism-supported jobs hit 1,319 — a 3% increase from 2017. The tourism industry is the fourth highest for employment — behind manufacturing, retail and health care — in Franklin County, according to Esra Calvert, director of research for VTC.

Meanwhile, local tourism-related taxes totaled $3.3 million — a 5% increase over 2017.

Franklin County Tourism Director David Rotenizer said these numbers show Franklin County’s continued growth in the tourism sector.

“Tourism is economic development, and it is a form of revenue and jobs for our community,” he said. “Investing in tourism in order to build a tourism economy benefits the ‘place,’ as well as a place for residents to enjoy.”

He added tourism also positions the county for investment, talent and business acquisition.

“With exception to the economic slowdown during 2017-18, Franklin County has reflected steady and constant growth for over 15 years,” Rotenizer said. “Tourism in Franklin County is here to stay — it is a critical part to our growing and stable economic infrastructure.”

Averaging total visitor spending by 365 days means that “every day, visitors spend over $319,000 in Franklin County,” Rotenizer added.

Fortunately, the county has a range of tourism assets for the thriving industry. “There are a number of drivers for the increased tourism impact, including an explosion of activities at the Crazy Horse Marina, including national level fishing tournaments and other activities,” Rotenizer said.

“The Harvester Performance Center continues to draw a national — and now international audience. In recent years, both the Blue Ridge Parkway and Booker T. Washington National Monument have reached record attendance levels. The Crooked Road: Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail and the Blue Ridge Folklife Festival continue to capture the attention of the international media. As for marketing, the county, state and regional organizations continue to spread the word that Franklin County is a great place to live, work and play.”

Chris Bechtler, director of marine operations at Crazy Horse Marina at Smith Mountain Lake, confirmed in a recent press release by the tourism department, that the marina has experienced a large increase in business during the past seven years.

“We find that working with other businesses with common interests has been advantageous, like the rising tide raising all boats — so does a thriving local economy,” Bechtler said. “Planning events using acts from outside the area, in addition to our local talent, has given us reach far and wide.”

The state, overall, saw $26 billion in travel spending, which helped support 235,000 jobs statewide.

The data is based on domestic visitor spending (travelers from within the United States) from trips taken 50 miles or more away from home. Rotenizer explained the economic impact comes from visitors beyond 50 miles because of the increased chance for added spending — food, gas, shopping and lodging and visiting longer.

In the spring, Rotenizer said the county will be rolling out a new tourism website, which has not been updated since 2014.

The county also looks to reposition its social media and marketing program to capitalize on select target sectors.

“Our core areas of focus remain: music, heritage, art, nature, leisure, culinary, agritourism and outdoor recreation,” Rotenizer said. “The key now is to keep things moving.”

One area he hopes to improve is the retail and related community development activities.

“Shopping is the number one activity of travelers — so, bring them here for one thing, but keep the cash registers humming in harmony on all fronts,” Rotenizer said. “As a case in point, has anyone taken close note of all of the varied and diverse retail, specialty and service businesses between Burnt Chimney and Hales Ford Bridge?

That is a retail alley just waiting to be unsiloed. Collectively, all of these businesses, if squeezed together, form an impressive sector — almost a small town in size.”

He added all parts of the county — the towns of Boones Mill and Rocky Mount, along with the communities of Ferrum, Snow Creek, Callaway, Henry, Glade Hill and Union Hall — could benefit from more small businesses and entrepreneurs taking advantage of economic opportunity.

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