Polk County Democrats hope convention in Charlotte causes trickle-down benefits

Published 5:36 pm Monday, February 7, 2011

A stir of excitement sparked among Democrats in Western North Carolina after it was announced Feb. 1 that Charlotte would serve as host to the 2012 Democratic National Convention.
Blake Arledge, chair of the Polk County Democrats, said the event offers benefits for more than just those who toe the party line.
“This will be good for everyone in North Carolina. It can’t be denied it’s a great economic opportunity – it’s going to mean a lot of money,” he said. “It will put North Carolina into everyone’s attention.”
The convention has already captured the interest of Margaret Johnson, local Democrat and former convention delegate.
Polk County Democrats asked her to be the point person between Polk County and DNC officials.
“We want to make sure that the Polk County people who want to volunteer will get a chance to,” Johnson said. “To give people an idea of how big of a scope a convention is, when the Final Four came to Charlotte they gave out 1,700 press credentials. The convention will give out at least 35,000.”
DNC officials, in fact, expect to need almost 6,000 volunteers.
This doesn’t include the press and delegates that will attend the variety of events throughout the week-long event.
Johnson, a former candidate for the Polk County Board of Commissioners, attended the convention in Denver. She said even she had to stay 40 minutes away from the convention location. That being said, she thinks Polk County has the ability to attract attendees to the area especially the week before and the week after the event.
Melinda Young, director of Polk County Travel and Tourism, said there are three distinct opportunities for the area related to the convention.
She said it’s likely Polk County could capture people traveling through the area on their way to or from the convention, draw in convention delegates who have time for short day trips and possibly even provide accommodations for people who cannot find hotels closer to Charlotte.
“Charlotte is already one of our key markets for travelers – it’s so close, it’s such an easy, easy drive,” Young said. “It’s ideally positioned for a getaway to our area.”
Young said she envisions attracting people here to visit Pearson Falls or take a winery tour. She thinks therefore it would behoove Polk County to create a mapped out itinerary for people who might come, so they won’t have to spend their time trying to figure out where to go.
“When people drive from Charlotte to Asheville they are driving 74 to 26, so they drive straight through here,” Young said, “so I think there are some possibilities of drawing from Asheville and the marketing they do to pull them off the interstate for a little side trip or at least lunch.”
Johnson agreed that the beauty of the area would be its best asset.
“A lot of these people will want to get out and enjoy the first of September in the mountains,” she said. “We really will be the gateway from Charlotte. I know that Henderson County and Asheville will be pushing a lot to get people there, but if we promote Polk County there is no reason they shouldn’t stop here.”
The key, Young said, will be Polk County finding its way into marketing materials the DNC will send out to its delegates before the big event.
The 2008 convention handed out credentials to 15,000 press people and 35,000 participants. Johnson said there were 80,000 at the convention on the night of the last speech.
“We want to heavily involve Polk County in this whole process,” Arledge said. “We want to start highlighting Polk County, the community and the businesses – a lot of people will be coming into North Carolina and we want to take advantage of that.”
Charlotte was selected from a short list including Cleveland, Ohio; St. Louis, Mo., and Minneapolis, Minn.
The convention, scheduled during the week of Sept. 3, 2012, will attract an estimated 35,000 delegates, national and international media and key policy and political leaders.
“It’s going to be something that’s likely to be on every agenda we have right up until the date,” Arledge said.
Arledge said anyone interested in volunteering at the convention should attend their local precinct meeting in March.
For details, visit www.CharlotteIn2012.com. To learn more about the local Democratic Party, visit www.polkdemocrats.com.