Polk leaders say WEG offers unique economic opportunity

Published 10:00 pm Monday, November 14, 2016

Tryon International Equestrian Center (photo by Michael O’Hearn)

Tryon International Equestrian Center (photo by Michael O’Hearn)

MILL SPRING– Polk County elected officials, managers and the chamber director all say they are excited for the World Equestrian Games (WEG) to come to the Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC) in September 2018, with the games offering a unique and once in a lifetime economic opportunity for the county and its towns.

TIEC announced Nov. 3 that the venue was selected as the site for the 2018 WEG. The games are hosted every four years and administered by the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI).

The most recent games held in the United States was in Lexington, Ky. in 2010 with a reported 507,022 people attending. Attendance totals over that 16-day event ranged from 12,000 a couple of days, between 23,000 and nearly 30,000 on half of those days, and 30,000-50,000 on peak days.

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Polk County Commissioner-Elect Jake Johnson, who was the high vote-getter in the recent election, said he is excited about the WEG coming to Polk County and the economic impact it will bring.

“To prepare for the games as a county we will need to do a lot of the same things we do now, as far as security and public safety, just on a much larger scale and for a lot more people,” Johnson said. “I look forward to working with our different departments as well as businesses here in the county to make sure we capitalize on this opportunity. As excited as I am about this event, my first priority is looking out for the people of Polk County and making sure that the games are a good thing for them every step of the way. That is what I will continue to focus on.”

Polk County Commissioner Elect Tommy Melton said he is very pleased that TIEC is hosting the WEG for 2018. He said it is an honor that Polk County was selected and he thinks the county should embrace it and make sure the county shows its Southern hospitality.

“The TIEC and the Polk County government should begin a dialogue that includes all the local fire departments and the Polk County Rescue Squad, along with all Polk County law enforcement, which would enable all departments to have input into what areas in which they will have responsibility,” Melton said. “I am sure that the state of North Carolina will be able to assist and give us direction on traffic needs, congestion and what to be prepared for. I think the most important thing is to make sure everyone is communicating and asking lots of appropriate questions.”

Polk County Commissioner Ray Gasperson said the hosting by TIEC of the WEG will give the citizens of our region a great opportunity to demonstrate to the world our outgoing, generous Southern hospitality.

“And it will provide a major financial boost to many individuals and small to large businesses,” Gasperson said. “Additionally, local government will see significant sales tax revenue along with continued property tax base growth as the property at TIEC is developed to accommodate the WEG and other similar large equine events. In my opinion, the primary role for local government will continue to be planning for and working to protect the health and safety of our nearly 21,000 citizens and the tens of thousands of visitors to our county.”

Gasperson said there will certainly be significant costs to local government for providing law enforcement, EMS and emergency management coverage for the WEG and other events, but when events have occurred at TIEC up to this point, they have been working closely with Polk County to offset the costs.

“I feel confident they will continue this arrangement,” said Gasperson.

Polk County Manager Marche Pittman said he thinks the WEG offers the county a unique opportunity to grow the local economy and entrepreneurship in Polk County. Pittman said the county has been and will continue to take a regional approach to planning for the event. He said working together with state, local and private partners, the county will be able to provide resources for the WEG while continuing to take care of the needs of Polk citizens.

Pittman said just last week, all Polk County local government department heads sat down with Mark Bellissimo and Sharon Decker with TIEC to start working through some of the major issues associated with an event of this size.

“Out of that conversation, the need for constant communication and extensive planning were identified as significant issues,” Pittman said. “We intend to focus our attention on both of these issues moving forward.”

Pittman also said the county is working internally to identify areas of the county’s operations that might be affected by the WEG.

“This can be challenging because an event of this size will affect us in ways that aren’t easily obvious,” Pittman said. “We have a great group of department heads in Polk County and we also have great employees. If there was one team of people I would want behind me for an event of this type, it would be the group we have right now.

“With our highly professional organization and our other state, local and private partners, I feel like we are positioned to effectively handle the event.”

Town leaders also said they are excited about the opportunity and hope to find ways for local businesses to capitalize on the event.

Tryon Town Manager Zach Ollis said Tryon is really excited for the event and he thinks it’s a great opportunity not just for the town but the county as a whole.

“We are going to do our best to get the town prepared to capitalize on any sort of income that could come to the town,” Ollis said.

Ollis also said he wants to speak with Columbus and Saluda managers about capitalizing on the event together. He said it could be getting a shuttle bus to take visitors to the towns.

“There’s all sorts of opportunities,” said Ollis.

Tryon Mayor Alan Peoples also spoke of the possibility of shuttle buses to the towns, including Tryon, Columbus, Landrum and Saluda and the possibility of coupon books to businesses.

Peoples said he thinks everybody can benefit from the WEG, saying the event will last for a few weeks and those people are going to want to see the area on their time off. Peoples said with approximately half a million people coming to the area, they will need a place to stay, a place to eat, will have to get gasoline and the list of needs goes on. The occupancy tax will be impacted as well as the sales tax, he said.

Peoples also said some of those people will likely come back to this area to visit and some of those will relocate here.

“If 500,000 people come here, some of those will buy property and move here,” Peoples said.

On preparing for the event, Peoples said he thinks the county and towns should get together.

“I’d like to see us run some shuttles to the four towns, and we need to include Landrum in this,” Peoples said.

He suggested running shuttles every 30 minutes to an hour and have stops in Tryon, Columbus, Saluda and Landrum and having packets and coupons books of what to do and see while in those towns.

Peoples also said if 500,000 people come to the area he estimates it will be over a $100 million economic impact on the county.

Saluda Mayor Fred Baisden said the WEG is a great opportunity for Polk County and the surrounding counties and the upstate of South Carolina.

“All the towns and the county need to embrace this event and be a part of it,” said Baisden. “If we don’t get involved and prepare for this large event, it will roll right over us.”

Carolina Foothills Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Janet Sciacca said the chamber is very excited about this event coming to our community and looks forward to working with TIEC over the next year and with or local businesses to optimize the economic impact in a positive way.

“This is an unprecedented event for North Carolina, with the opportunity to be showcased all over the world,” Sciacca said. “We will help support what is needed to service the patrons of this event, with accommodations, food, shopping and whatever else is needed.”