By RACHEL DOVE-BALDWIN
WILLIAMSON - Community involvement and support is extremely important in the planning process to attract and maintain tourism in the Mingo County area. To encourage the public to participate in this endeavor and to share their ideas and thoughts, the director, officers and board members of the Tug Valley Chamber of Commerce (TVCC) held a meeting on Tuesday evening at the Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College (SWVCTC) that was open to all who wished to attend.
Topics ranged from how to promote and retain new businesses, to cleaning up garbage near the Hatfield and McCoy feud sites, to the importance of working with tourism committees in neighboring communities and counties.
Expanding the hours of operation for the Chamber (Coal House) and the Matewan Depot are a matter of necessity, and issues surrounding what would have to be in place for this to become a reality were at the top of the priority list.
David Hatfield, the founder and director of the Hatfield and McCoy Marathon, achieved his previous goal of 500 runners this year during the 13th annual festival, and he spoke of his wish to see that amount doubled next year. The marathon, which is also rated in the top-ten races within the United States achieved an extra dose of attention and notoriety this year, thanks to the popularity and media attention created by the Hatfield and McCoy mini-series and documentary.
Alicia Bailey, with the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau was the special guest speaker for the Tuesday meeting that had approximately 60 to 70 people in attendance. Bailey, who had relocated to Virginia and then came back to her home town of Charleston spoke of steps that must be taken to successfully build a tourism economy.
Tourism is big business,” began Bailey. “West Virginia tourism brings in $4.2 billion annually, 44,000 jobs and $582 million in taxes. Charleston tourism brings in $580 million, 52,000 jobs and $49 million in taxes. That will educate 5,300 children in elementary school or pave 392 miles of road.
“Hatfield and McCoy tourism brings in $167 million, creates 1,200 jobs and $11.5 million in taxes.
“We all get excited about big business coming in, but we should celebrate each time a retailer opens a shop of any size or magnitude, or when a restaurant opens its doors,” stated Bailey. “Large or small, they are all a reason for celebrating.
“Small business is the backbone of our economy,” remarked Bailey. “It is a welcome mat for other forms of economic development. For example, the owner of Motorola went to Phoenix, Arizona to golf. He had such a good tourist experienced and like it so much that he moved his business there. Motorola has held the title for many years as the largest employed within the state of Arizona.
“When we think about the things that make up tourism, the outdoor recreation, the places to stay, the places to eat, the way our downtown looks, the way we welcome people, it’s the welcome mat that we need,” explained Bailey.”More and more, businesses are looking for the quality of life for their company and their families. So, it’s very important that while you are helping your tourism economy to prosper, you are also helping other forms of economic development and you are drawing people to the area to show them everything you have to offer, you are essentially putting out the welcome mat.”
Bailey spoke of the spotlight that has recently shown on the Tug Valley area, and had the following comments to make:
“Southern West Virginia is riding a wave. Every time you pick up a newspaper, you find something about the Hatfields and McCoys. We are digging out of the recession. Advertising for a place takes three to six months to get people to come and this will be a definite reality in the very near future here in Mingo County.
“Marketing is the lifeblood of tourism. Economic development is like a big sports fisherman who get all the money to draw people in; tax credits are the big boats, they have the fancy rods and reels, they are able to catch the big fish and bring them home. Tourism is the commercial fisherman. They have an old tugboat and it has to last for years, they have to cast their nets out all the time. That’s why all of this free publicity you are getting is helping the tourism in this area. People will see it and they will want to come for a visit. Movies, TV and the internet all have a big impact on tourism in a region.
“You have to know what the tourist wants and provide that for them to be a successful location.”
Marathon Director Hatfield concluded the meeting as he addressed those in the audience with his thoughts of the possible onslaught of tourists that could be attracted to our area.
“We have been given a gift. The good Lord has looked down through time and has taken something that was so horrible for our families and made something good out of it,” he stated.
“He has given it to us, now what are we going to do with it? Are we are going use it to the best of our abilities, or are we going to feud among ourselves about our difference in opinions and ideas? I think we ought to move on to the future and get along and do things the right way.
“We have been getting 50 to 70 visitors at the Hog Trial site a day—and these are totals for just that one location. This includes people from all over the U.S. We need to expand our hours at the Coal House and the Matewan Depot. We need better signage to direct people in the right directions.”
“We have always, in the past, lived well below our potential and what we have to offer. We have so much here. I want to be able to keep our children here, to provide jobs for them. Let’s work together and pull together,” remarked Hatfield.
“If the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s can get along, anybody can.”
For more information on joining the Chamber of Commerce, contact Natalie Young, the Executive Director, at 304-235-5240 between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.