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Recently I had the opportunity to attend the Outdoor Economy Conference in Cherokee.

The Outdoor Economy Conference “connects, educates, and inspires leaders and doers working to grow the outdoor industry and craft an economy that’s intimately tied to the well-being of their places and communities.” 

There was a strong focus on how tourism development around outdoor activities is good for local economies. 

We learned that the outdoor economy is a $689 billion industry and that represents 2 percent of the GDP.

Since the conference was hosted by leaders in the Outdoor Economy in Western NC, there was a heavy emphasis on hiking, camping, biking, and river sports, such as canoeing, kayaking, and tubing.

Here are some of the takeaways that I learned and potential ways we can apply and benefit from those ideas.

In Western NC, Tourism is a driving force of local economies. 

They promote the natural and historical assets of the area to grow their economies and communities. We can do the same thing as Weldon.  

All communities want to be thriving communities with attractive neighborhoods, enjoyable parks and recreation areas, and successful business districts. 

Tourism can be an element to make all this happen to create a quality of life and a sense of place for the citizens and a great experience for visitors.

To grow an economy through tourism, communities need to have places for visitors not only to visit but places for them to spend money.

People will come and visit, but when they come they will want and need amenities. 

Some of these will be convenient restrooms, places to eat, a Wi-Fi connection are just a few. Weldon needs to consider public restrooms downtown and provide Wi-Fi for all.

And with visitations, there will come the need for maintenance and updates.

There was a lot of excitement around the unprecedented amount of funding that is now available that can be used to develop outdoor economy opportunities. 

Money for all sorts of tourism-related projects that will lead to the growth of a community's economies. But the overlaying comment that was made over and over was “You need to have a plan.”

I came away believing that Weldon needs to have a downtown and recreation master plan. Having a grand plan for everything we are trying to make happen will go a long way in our ability to seek funding for many different things. 

While we have plans for some individual projects, these projects will need to be encompassed in a master plan which will need to include everything we have been wanting to happen.

I’m not suggesting that we spend months re-planning. I’m suggesting that we take all the ideas that have already been envisioned and put them into a well-packaged plan — with pretty pictures. 

One of the programs I found most interesting is the Waypoint Accelerator and the “Shark Tank” type business pitches of six businesses that had gone through their program. 

First of all the Waypoint Accelerator is a mentoring program for outdoor entrepreneurs who have recently started businesses and are wanting to expand them or are seeking to start a business.

The reason I found this session interesting is that I have recently begun to discuss with local community and economic development leaders an idea on how to create Weldon into a tourist destination. 

Many of the ideas I had put on paper are some of the same things the Waypoint Accelerator is already doing. This is a model to follow. A future article will discuss this idea and project further.

As with any conference that one goes to, sometimes the best information learned does not always come from the sessions and the speakers but from random meetings with attendees. Conversations where you find out what someone else does and you realize that is the exact type of information we need. 

I met with Lynn Fuhler, who is a festival and event management expert, author and speaker. She has written a couple of books about festival planning and the things to avoid.

Wanda Maloney is the executive director of the Blue Ridge Parkway Association. 

She also owns a company called Corridor Solutions which has a focus on creating and enhancing scenic byways and visitor experiences.

Eric Haggart, wears several hats, First, he owns a photography and commercial drone business. 

He became a chamber board member which has led to him doing social media posts for the Franklin Chamber of Commerce. 

We talked about how I could improve the social media presence of several of the businesses I own. This was very helpful information for me.And I met several others that will be mentioned in future articles.

All in all it was a great experience with an overload of information. Now to figure out ways to gain benefit and growth from what has been learned.

Andy Whitby has been an advocate for Weldon and a local historian for many years. Whitby has been involved in downtown revitalization efforts through tourism and economic development for nearly 30 years. As the owner of several downtown commercial properties, Whitby seeks to provide attractive and affordable rental space for locally owned businesses and entrepreneurs.

He can be contacted at 252-532-7504 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.