Economic development meeting

Published 5:50 pm Thursday, March 8, 2012

Craig Hilton and Bob Morgan talk with Saluda Mayor Fred Baisden after the EDTC’s community meeting held Wednesday, March 7 at the Womack Building in Columbus. (photo by Samantha Hurst)

Polk County’s Economic Development and Tourism Committee (EDTC) board held its first open meeting Thursday, March 7 to inform the community of its efforts and to seek input.
“One of the reasons we wanted to open our meeting up to the community was to let you know exactly what we were doing so there was no question about what the Economic Development and Tourism Committee does,” said EDTC Director Libbie Johnson.
She went on to explain that the board’s mandate is to improve the economy and tourism through focused growth that benefits the long-term prosperity of the county. This means focusing on the development of human capital, infrastructure, environmental sustainability, regional competitiveness and more, she said.
“We are located in an absolutely unique area,” Chair Craig Hilton added. “We do have many resources here that over the next few decades will become increasingly desirable.”
The EDTC board includes Johnson, Hilton and members Geoff Carey, Carl Caudle, Aaron Greene, Karen Jones, Mary Lyth, Bob Morgan, Jo Ann Miksa-Blackwell, Melinda Young (tourism director) and Diane Timberlake, who serves as the secretary.
“We’re happy to report that we have a working board that has a variety of projects in the works… that are ‘can do’ projects,” Johnson said. “In other words, they are projects that can actually produce results and not pie-in-the-sky ideas.”
To accomplish specific goals the committee is then broken down into three subcommittees – business and entrepreneurial development, technology and websites and tourism development and media coordination.
Business and
entrepreneurial development
Miksa-Blackwell said the business and entrepreneurial development subcommittee is focused on efforts related to Polk County’s Certified Entrepreneurial Community designation. It took two years to get the certification from AdvantageWest, she said. This designation means the county has mapped its assets and developed a plan to assist entrepreneurs in their business endeavors.
What they found in the process surprised them, Miksa-Blackwell said.
Another manageable goal the committee has worked to develop is a home builder’s resource directory. This directory will include listings of local contractors, painters, landscapers, etc. Once published it will be mailed to the 3,000 out-of-town property owners who have homes in Polk County.
“The goal behind this was to stir up some work for [the contractors] now, not wait until the economy gets better and better and better, which could take years,” Johnson said.
Technology and
websites committee
“The purpose of [the technology and websites subcommittee] is to help us as a community to develop all the technology we need to attract people to Polk County,” Jones said.
Jones said things have happened very swiftly over the last few years in regard to the way people gather information. She said this subcommittee wants to use technology in the most effective manner to promote what is available locally.
Caudle said the primary focus would be to solicit responses from vendors locally, regionally and internationally to ensure the right people are getting the right information. This would mean, he said, integrating blogging and a social media presence on sites like Facebook and Twitter.
“We need to make sure we are properly positioned in all of those places in a way that makes sure people can find us,” Caudle said. “Especially in markets like Atlanta, Charlotte and Charleston  – if someone is looking to visit the mountains or start a new business in a new location, we want to make sure when they begin those searches that they find Polk County and they consider us as an option.”
To do this the committee will be looking at ways to drive more people to the tourism and economic development websites.
He said the key is making sure people stay on the websites long enough to find out what the county does have to offer both locally and within close enough proximity to stay and eat here, but also visit other regional attractions.
Carey spoke about how the board would work toward developing more tourism business and marketing that to outside communities once they found the sites Caudle talked about earlier.
Tourism development
and media coordination
Carey said the tourism development and media coordination committee’s goals are to improve the website calendar on www.Firstpeaknc.com, launch a marketing strategy and encourage agribusiness and coordinate bundling of attractions.
The plan is to try to increase revenue in occupancy tax through gathering interested vendors and merchants together to develop packages for visitors.
“I think where we can take it to another level is by encouraging collaboration among vendors and merchants because there is certainly power in numbers,” Carey said.
His suggestions included packages such as a wine getaway with tours and tastings of local wineries, dinner at a restaurant such as Giardini’s and a stay at the Pine Crest Inn for example.
“You want to direct these messages to the right kind of people, whether it’s a family outing or a romantic getaway – we can certainly meet all those different demographics and offer something for all of them,” Carey said.
Carey said subcommittee members realize there will be challenges, but he said they feel it doesn’t hurt to set the environment for collaboration.
Several community members also had input related to things they felt the committee could do to draw more people to the area.
John Vining suggested finding retired volunteers willing to serve as docents to the county because, as he said, “there are tons of things to see here in Polk County, but unless you grew up here like me, you don’t know how to find them.”
Another audience member suggested taking advantage of any free publication listings for events.
Hilton encouraged community members to participate in these efforts. An individual can do so by contacting someone on the EDTC board or Diane Timberlake in the county manager’s office. He said another community EDTC meeting would be held in six months.
The EDTC board also puts out a monthly electronic newsletter called ReImagine Polk that aims to keep citizens in the loop about its efforts.