ROCKINGHAM —On election night Nov. 5, Ellerbe Mayor-elect Lee Berry said he had a clear goal.
“I want to make sure people know Ellerbe is open for business,” Berry said.
So does Monty Crump and the rest of the Richmond County Tourism Development Authority (RCTDA). Crump, Rockingham city manager, is currently one of three people who comprise the RCTDA along with John Massey, city planner, and Kim Williams, events coordinator.
Crump makes one thing clear: The benefits of tourism are not to replace anything else in Richmond County’s economic development plan.
It’s not meant to be a primary focal point. It won’t save the local economy. But it is definitely a part of the package.
“It’s the low-hanging fruit,” said Crump of what he hopes will become the easy-to-grab fraction of success of neighboring counties.
On a list that ranks the economic impact, in millions of dollars, in an eight-county from 2011, Richmond County ranks third to last. According to one report, tourism had a $40.85 million impact on Richmond County. Just to the north, Moore County accepted a windfall of more than $374 million.
The goal of the RCTDA is to reap the benefits of people already traveling to the area and entice them to enjoy — and spend money at or near — attractions within the county borders. In order to make that happen, there needs to be a plan.
Enter Arnett Muldrow and Associates. The RCTDA contracted with the Greenville, S.C.-based planning and branding firm to help build the image of Richmond County and sell it to the public. The contract is worth approximately $26,790. It could be money wellspent.
Crump said the firm has worked in more than 28 states and 300 communities — some of them just like Richmond County, with town comparable to Rockingham, Hamlet, Ellerbe and the smaller areas.
Arnett Muldrow and Associates is set to begin step three on a 10-step plan. Next week, firm representatives will meet with nine members of the RCTDA Steering Committee that represent a cross-section of attractions and interests in Richmond County, including Discovery Place KIDS, Rockingham Speedway, the Rankin Museum, the Hamlet Depot and Museum, the county arts council, historical society and others.
Then Arnett Muldrow and Associates will spend a second day interviewing restaurant owners, hotel operators and other stakeholders prominent in driving and supporting tourism.
The RCTDA is fully funded by hotel/motel tax revenue. The county and city split equally a 6 percent tax on each night’s hotel stay. Because the success of a tourism effort hinges on an increase of visitors’ and their stays, the effort to brand Richmond County “will pay particular attention to an extern marketing message that looks to leverage the community’s destination assets to build a stronger visitor base,” reads the eight-page action plan presented by the firm.
Part of the discussion will hinge on what to do with the Rockingham Seaboard Depot. The depot, located at the corner of Highway 74 Business and U.S. Route 1, is to become the visitors center for the Richmond County Tourism Development Authority. But questions remain on how it’s staffed and what requirements would be required of a successful visitors center.
The entire plan should be finished within four to six months.