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What May Seem Like a Small Piece of a Regions Economic Puzzle,
Tourism is the Little Engine that Could

By Keith Strange, The Mount Airy News, N.C.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

May 24, 2012--Tourism may seem like a small piece of the economic puzzle in Surry County, but without the economic engine produced by the industry every household would be writing larger checks to the city or county, according to Mount Airy Director of Tourism Jessica Icenhour Roberts.

"From a local standpoint, it's important to realize that tourism helps keep the local tax rate low," she said. "Tourism accounts for a savings of $239 in taxes every year."

And the statistics can be eye-opening.

January's occupancy tax collections this year are up 20.83 percent from last year's figures, Roberts said. In February this year, the tax collection rates were up 33.5 percent from last year.

"In the month of March, 2012, the collections were up 3.77 percent from March 2011," Roberts noted.

And the visitors are coming from all over.

In April this year, the staff of the city's Visitor's Center greeted 4,838 visitors, about the same number from last year. The top 10 states represented are North Carolina, Virginia, Florida, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Tennessee, Georgia, West Virginia and Alabama.

Between January and April, the center's staff has tracked and greeted a total of 11,624 visitors, including international visitors from Canada, Germany, Austria, England, Mexico and Poland.

According to a Visitors Impact study released by the North Carolina Department of Commerce in August 2011, visitors to Surry County spent a little more than $95 million in Surry County in 2010.

"Tourism still remains as an important thriving industry in North Carolina and Surry County," Roberts said. "The tourism industry is vital to our local economy because (it) brings in those necessary outside dollars to be spent in Surry County."

In 2010, visitors to the Mount Airy center represented all 50 U.S. states and countries like South Africa, Italy, Australia, Japan, Russia and China.

Highlights of the study include:

* The travel and tourism industry directly employs more than 740 people in Surry County. * The total payroll generated by tourism in the county was $13.78 million. * State tax revenue generated in Surry County totaled $5.69 million through state sales and excise taxes. * About $2.15 million in local taxes were generated from sales and property tax revenue from travel-generated and travel-supported businesses.

Add together the state and local taxes and tourism generates about $7.84 million, Roberts said. Surry County has 32,812 households, meaning tax relief of $239 per household, Roberts said.

"I think tourism is an important part of the economic development puzzle in Surry County," she added. "It fits well with economic development because tourism jobs can't be exported.

And the jobs aren't necessarily low-paying jobs.

"These are jobs that provide people with opportunities," she said. "They run the gamut from temporary positions during the tourism season to hotel management, vineyard ownership.

"I don't think tourism is going to replace all the jobs that have been lost in Surry County over the years, but it does provide an opportunity for people who have lost those jobs to come back and work in a different area."

Reach Keith Strange at or 719-1929.


(c)2012 The Mount Airy News (Mount Airy, N.C.)

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