Tourism recovery in Blowing Rock
Although the Blowing Rock Tourism Development Authority ended its 2009-10 Fiscal Year with revenue down 7.98 percent from 2008/2009, recent months have shown hopeful increases, according to Tracy Brown, TDA executive director.
Brown said that three of the past four months have been especially good, with average increases in occupancy tax collection up by nearly 10 percent in May, June and July compared to the same months last year.
"We're hearing from all four of our sectors - retail, accommodations, attractions and restaurants - that it's been a good summer," Brown said. "In fact, some are saying it's been one of the best summers ever."
Brown cited several factors positively impacting the recent upward trend in occupancy tax revenues: The many events put on in the past few months by the chamber (Blue Ridge Wine & Food Festival, Art in the Park), the Blowing Rock Horse Show Foundation, BRAHM (Art & Antiques Show), St. Mary's of the Hills Episcopal Church (Tour of Homes) and others have encouraged visitation.
Continued media buys and the High Country co-operative media outreach through LKM, the state's marketing firm, has helped keep Blowing Rock top of mind with potential visitors.
Brown said that Blowing Rock has more than held its own during the economic downturn relative to other High Country destinations and the state as a whole.
"It's been tough over the last couple of years, but I think we're coming out of it," Brown said. "In July the Visitor Center saw a 29 percent increase in walk-in traffic, almost 3,000 folks, including many visitors from overseas. The majority were from the U.K. and Germany, but we've also had visitors from the Netherlands, Australia, France, Brazil, Switzerland, Canada and Costa Rica. We're getting a world-wide reputation as a world-class destination."
Boone council to set long-term capital plans
The Boone Town Council met with department heads Monday to discuss short-term and long-term capital needs, deciding to compile a formal plan later this year.
Town manager Greg Young warned that the town had limited ability to create new revenues and costly improvements might lead to tax or fee increases. The current top project is renovation of the downtown post office, for which the town paid $1.25 million two years ago.
The town expects to spend another $1.5 million in renovation and design, with the space to house the Planning & Inspections Department.
Other pressing needs are replacement of the Boone Public Works building. Director Blake Brown said available properties for a larger municipal lot ranged from $2.5 million to $5.5 million.
The council voted to pursue bids for consultants to compile a capital improvement plan that includes cost estimates, with the goal of hiring a consultant in November.
N.C. jobless rates drop
North Carolina's unemployment rate sank to 9.8 percent in July from a 10 percent rate in June, but the state's labor force has declined at about five times the national average since the recession began.
North Carolina's job shortfall grew this month to reach more than 425,000 jobs. The total number of jobs in North Carolina declined by 29,800 since June, driven primarily by losses in government, where 27,300 jobs were lost. Many of these are local school district jobs.
While construction continues to lose jobs (2,800), the job losses are more acutely felt in the professional and business sectors -1,700 jobs have been lost in leisure and hospitality services, 1,300 jobs lost in professional and business activities and 1,100 in general services) now as compared to the early and significant declines in manufacturing.
ASU makes national listings
Appalachian State University has been included in new national rankings related to teaching, affordability and sustainability. The honors come from U.S. News & World Report, Forbes Magazine and Sierra Club Magazine.
Appalachian remained No. 3 among the top public master degree granting universities in the South in U.S. News and World Report's 2011 America's Best Colleges Guide.
Appalachian is ranked ninth in the South among public and private four-year institutions.
The university has placed among the top 15 public and private southern universities since the rankings first appeared in 1986.
"Appalachian has once again been recognized for its commitment to quality in higher education," said ASU Chancellor Kenneth E. Peacock. "These honors did not just come to Appalachian, they were earned. During these tough economic times in higher education, I am very proud of the work of our faculty and staff and grateful for their contributions that make these honors possible."
Appalachian also is included in the magazine's "Schools With a Strong Commitment to Teaching," "First-Year Experience," "Learning Communities," "A+ Schools for B Students" and the "Up-and-Comers" lists.
Appalachian was ranked just below James Madison University (1) and The Citadel (2).
Others included, in order, College of Charleston, University of Mary Washington, UNC Wilmington, Murray State University, Winthrop University, Longwood University and Tennessee Technological University/Western Carolina University.
Forbes Magazine included Appalachian in its 2010 list of "America's Best College Buys." The university was listed 20th among 100 colleges and universities in the U.S. cited for providing a high quality education at the lowest cost to students.
Appalachian also is included in Sierra Club Magazine's recently released 2010 list of 100 "Cool Schools," an annual list of schools doing the most for the planet, and was cited as one of six universities that had significantly increased its activities related to sustainability.