Tag Archives: economic development

Tourism: Growing Gaston County’s (No Longer) Sleeping Giant

SEABROOK SAYS: Let’s hear it for Michael Applegate!  Mike, our new Director of Travel and Tourism, brings refreshing new energy to Gaston County.  Read and be reminded of all the good things to do and see right here at home. NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

Over the past two decades, Gaston County’s travel & tourism industry has grown by leaps and bounds. Remarkably, even with this amazing surge, our best is yet to come.

What We Do and Who We Do It For

As Director of our County’s destination marketing organization, I strive to stay focused on four major areas that best serve our local residents, municipal stakeholders, industry partners and the traveling public:

  1. Marketing and Selling to the Visitor – this includes targeting the right group and individual markets as well as both leisure and business & conference related audiences.
  2. Informing, Educating and Advising the Visitor – we publish a visitor’s guide, maintain a website, run social media campaigns, and distribute partner materials to familiarize travelers with the vast array of experiences our County offers.
  3. Delivering Services to the Visitor- acting as a liaison between the visitor and our local hotel, attraction, restaurant, and retail partners, we represent the collective interests of the industry by making recommendations that meet our customers’ needs and produce a satisfying stay.
  4. Developing the Destination – working with local governments, county departments, industry partners and community leaders we support a strategic, well-planned vision for the future growth and development of our destination.

These focus areas come to life through our strategic plan, the main pillars of which are: Sales & Marketing– we are committed to marketing the destination in creative and unique ways to grow awareness, visitation and tourism spending; Partnership– we embrace our role in representing the collective interests of our stakeholders and we value their investment in our destination; Service– we are dedicated to exceeding the expectations of our visitors, our clients, and our partners to foster positive experiences and ongoing loyalty; and Destination Management– we will advocate for the development of events and venues within our County that positively impact our tourism industry and solidify our brand position.

Tourism is Economic Development

Similar to our County’s Economic Development Commission, our goal in Travel & Tourism is to stimulate local investment. However, the investment we pursue comes in the form of visitor spending.  Any time a person travels to Gaston County from 50 miles or more away, either for the day or overnight, the dollars they spend here support our local economy. Last year, visitors to Gaston County collectively spent a whopping $234 million dollars.  These direct expenditures helped to employ over 1,800 individuals working in our local tourism industry. Further, spending by travelers visiting our area generated $12.9 million in state tax receipts and $3.8 million in local tax receipts.  The state and local tax collections resulting from visitor spending represent a tax savings per resident of $79.46.

In hitting the $234 million mark last year, annual visitor spending in Gaston County has now grown over $71 million in the past ten years (up from $163 million in 2005). In the past twenty years, annual visitor spending in Gaston County has grown over $132 million (up from $102 million in 1995).                Among North Carolina’s 100 Counties, Gaston County ranks seventeenth in annual visitor expenditures.

Branding a Key to Destination Management

In order to best deliver upon our organizational mission – to effectively market and promote travel to Gaston County and to strategically manage the development of future tourism assets in order to maximize overnight stays, visitor spending, client satisfaction and local partner engagement – we must have a compelling message about the experience we offer visitors. This is executed through branding- the creation of an emotional bond connecting our visitor audiences to Gaston County.  A credible, authentic, resonant brand differentiates us from the pack, provides consistent messaging for our tourism product and becomes an aspirational rallying point for residents and tourism partners.  A strong and unique identity helps us attract more visitors and to generate more revenue. With branding, we actively support all pillars of our strategic plan- sales & marketing, partnership, client satisfaction and destination management.

With our strategic plan and unique positioning through destination branding, Gaston County is poised to grow tourism to levels not previously seen. I am incredibly excited to part of this vibrant destination, particularly at this time.

Michael Applegate
Director, Gaston County Travel and Tourism


Leading Officials or Official Leadership?


Gaston folks, here is a fresh approach to community leadership. James is a former member of the staff of our United Way who now resides in Asheville.  What do you think? NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO? 

Time for Growth in Gaston.

Gaston County, we have nine new neighbors. Welcome to the Charlotte Metro Region. I know some of you are making a face and saying, “We’re not Charlotte!” You’re right. The obvious is often true. We are Gaston County, and as Gaston County, we face a question: Does Gaston County have what it takes to be the benchmark for success in the region? I believe so. I believe a real desire for a dynamic, diverse community, with a waiting list for new residents, exists. I know might be overly optimistic, yet only about the waiting list.

Do we know ourselves? 

Our county is not at all different from most counties that surround a large city. We want to be in the game, but we want our identity intact. As such we’ve talked a good talk. We’ve met a good meeting. We’ve visioned a good vision. But did those efforts prove enough. I sat in those meetings. We talked, met, and visioned together. We made the effort out of care for this place. Informed by the same care, why don’t we ask a timely, tough question: What is it, Gaston County, that holds us up, that holds us back?

Whatever we’ve saved, for last or for later, now needs to come out of the box on the shelf and wow. If we indeed believe, and I think we do, in our worth and wonder, we now must prove it. Anyone considering jobs for Gaston County, investment in Gaston County, relocation of their family to Gaston County will politely listen to our praise of Gaston County. They will then watch what we do, compare Gaston County to the other counties. How well does our county supports our schools, provide infrastructure. Can Gaston County claim effective engagement with neighbors and a sense of connection to the region. What limits access to Gaston County; what sort of transportation plan is in place. Does Gaston County look like a county prepared for growth now and in the future?

Gaston County, do we know the answers to those questions? We need to know our strengths and our weaknesses. Like any community in our place, both can be found. What we do about is our opportunity to set ourselves apart.

 Follow your Leader

Gaston County, for all the talk of a leadership deficit, builds leaders every day. The leadership potential exists within the Economic Development, Human Service, and the Civic sectors. Leaders who can lend expertise and specialized skills, know the way around the issues relevant to our county. Sharing a plan informed by data, experience, and wisdom, they are all in for this effort. This leadership recognizes the benefit possible for all through more and better jobs, an increased tax base, and greater investment. We will find qualities such as competence, compassion, integrity, confidence, flexibility, and honesty informing these leaders. This is Can Do leadership.

If we look at the success of communities such as Greenville, SC; Asheville, NC; and Franklin, TN, the importance of collaborative work between the private sector and the public sector is clear. Our significant, critical work will require collaboration with elected officials, both municipal and county. Officials will navigate difficult, sobering choices; choices best informed by a clear understanding of overarching, complex goals. This calls for leaders sharing the vision, not handing down the vision; leaders beyond the confines of party politics, thinking and acting locally; leaders mitigating conflict with compassion, dignity and respect for all involved; communicating through wisdom, not social media. We require critical thinkers furthering well crafted policy, cognizant of the present and future outcomes. Can we remind ourselves too often that the image problem faced by Gaston County won’t benefit from the antics of ineffective, disengaged, political officials in the guise of leaders. Certainly not. Friends, let’s agree to follow great leaders by electing great leaders. This time. Every time.

James Burgess

Gaston Can Be Great Again

On April 27, 2014, The Charlotte Observer ran an article showing the growth of Mecklenburg and surrounding counties during the last 3 years. Mecklenburg grew 7.3%, Union 5.2%, Cabarrus 4.8%, York 5.5% and Gaston 1.6%. I asked “How could that be”? Gaston County is the most beautiful county in the Piedmont, with rivers, lakes and mountains. It is located on three major highways and is convenient to Charlotte and the airport. It has good schools, abundant water and sewer capacity, available buildings and an able work force. Gastonia has been an all-American city three times. I set out to try to determine why Gaston County is doing so poorly. I quickly found out that most of the growth that Gaston County has experienced is limited to Belmont, Cramerton and Mount Holly, with areas west of those towns actually losing population.

Here is what else I found:

1. Gaston County has a reputation throughout Metrolina as a rough place. For many years, Gaston County was infamous for its violent crime and that image still prevails in Mecklenburg County. I have been with citizens and realtors from Mecklenburg County and when they discover I am from Gastonia, you can detect a slight snicker.

2. Gaston County has failed to latch onto the Mecklenburg and Charlotte bandwagon. When textiles were king in Gaston County, we could afford to be independent, but with the demise of the textile industry, our future is tied to the future of Charlotte. Other towns around Charlotte have recognized this and have taken off. Just observe the growth in Rock Hill, Mooresville, Huntersville, Monroe, Mint Hill, etc.

3. Gaston County, and especially Gastonia, have very onerous building restrictions, overzealous inspections and high and discriminatory fees against developers. I have heard many developers say they will never do business in Gastonia again.

4. Our government leaders, on the local and state level, have failed to grasp some major growth opportunities that have been available to Gaston County, e.g. The Garden State Parkway, major corporate offices (Parkdale and others) in downtown Gastonia, and the Harris Teeter shopping area to name a few. I realize that controversy accompanies some of these projects but most progress brings controversy.
What can we do in the future to assure that Gaston County gets its share of the growth? We have 2 ways to proceed – attract new jobs in the manufacturing sector and be a major residential area for Charlotte workers.

I suggest the following:

1. Our leaders, government and business, should meet and communicate regularly with Charlotte leaders and realtors. Let them know the qualities of Gaston County, dispel any adverse impressions and urge them to invest in the future of Gaston County. A promotional film, if one does not exist, would be helpful. I know it is difficult to get Charlotte realtors to consider Gastonia, since a $250,000 house in Gastonia would sell for $400,000 in Charlotte (a recent observer article put the average home price in Gaston County at $147,134 with Mecklenburg being $261,414), but Gaston County offers a more affordable and relaxing way of life than Charlotte. We just have to convince the realtors.

2. Without sacrificing quality, abolish all harsh and unnecessary regulations, fees and inspections. Develop a reputation as pro-growth and publicize to businesses and developers that Gaston County wants you and is open to business.

3. Seize or at least seriously consider every opportunity for growth, realizing that most decisions carry some controversy. We have made some positive investments in preserving downtown Gastonia and the Firestone Mill, but these expenditures have not led to job growth. Future expenditures should have the primary purpose of promoting growth, i.e. water and sewer extension down Union Road and New Hope Road and working to get the P & N commuter train to Charlotte.

4. Develop a coordinated plan through the economic development commission, the Chamber of Commerce and the newly formed Gaston Development Corporation to sell Gaston County as the place to live and do business. Since textiles are returning to the U.S., Gaston County should compete for this market. We still have a trained work force and many empty mills. We also have an advantage in recruiting metal and plastic fabrication. Tax incentives, through our state and municipal governments, are also necessary to seriously compete.
In the last few months, I have noticed a renewed awareness of this problem among our elected officials and community leaders. Now is the time for all of us to show the world what a great place Gaston County is.

Charlie Gray
Gray, Layton, Kersh, Solomon, Furr, and Smith