Thursday, April 30, 2015

Tourism Economy Critical to DeKalb by John Dersham

Tourism is the largest non agricultural industry in DeKalb and in the State of Alabama. The dollars spent by tourists in our area are critical to the economy of our area, so much so that if there were no dollars spent by tourists in DeKalb County every household in DeKalb would have to pay an extra $230 in taxes just to make up the difference.
Every year at this time the state of Alabama releases its tourism economic impact report. We just got ours for DeKalb County. Last year tourists spent 75 million dollars in DeKalb. This is 75 million dollars that our cities, county and state collected tax revenue from. This is a 4.8% increase over 2013 and in a time of a slow overall economy in our area tourism has managed to continue to grow. This is good considering that we have lost a couple attractions and not gained new ones. Sequoyah Caverns closed a couple years ago and we lost our legendary Mentone Springs Hotel. The good news is DeSoto S.P. is adding an attraction with a zip line under construction now and the JSU Canyon Center is growing rapidly in the number of events held there and the attendance is growing. In addition there are long term growth items in the works such as the One World Adventure, Beck Building Discovery Center, and the Lookout Gateway Trail system which is 60 miles of multipurpose trails connecting Fort Payne and Mentone to an extensive trail system on top of Lookout Mountain. There is a Cultural Arts Center in the works for Mentone and a Main Street program for Fort Payne. These are all in planning stages and when funded and in operation will greatly help tourism.
The number of visitors to our area continues to grow too. Our lodging was up 4.8% also and the headcount at Little River Canyon is continuing to rise. Visitors love our area and they come back year after year. Our hometown group Alabama is out there on concert dates and they are recording and continuing to win awards. They are in the process of sprucing up the Fan Club and Museum and have great things planned for fan appreciation weekend this June 18th-21st this summer.
The State of Alabama has also continued to grow in tourism. Last year tourists spent 11.8 billion dollars in our state generating $43,400 for the general fund of Alabama. People love the diversity of the scenery in Alabama from the mountains in the north to the black belt, the coastal plains and the gulf coast.
Long before I ever visited Alabama I learned in 5th grade geography class that Alabama was the only state in the continental U.S. that could be self sufficient without other states. We have costal waterways, a great river system and changing soil conditions across the state to allow for a general array of crop, tree and animal farming.
For more information about upcoming events and things to do and see in DeKalb, visit our website at or call us at 256-845-3957.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Main Street Alabama - Fort Payne by John Dersham

Your are invited to a social event at the Vintage 1889 at 6 P.M. tonight for wine tasting, music and an auction to help raise money to support the initial Main Street program fees.
Over the last few months various elements in the business community of Fort Payne have been meeting and working on the potential of Fort Payne becoming a “Main Street” community. Some of you may not be familiar with the program. It is a nationwide program to redevelop the original downtowns of small town America. Over the last 5 decades many small towns have lost their downtown, retail, restaurants and offices to a suburban outskirt environment often on an outer loop or next to an interstate. The Main Street program is a comprehensive marketing and business plan to revive downtowns.
Here is Main Street Alabama’s mission statement;
  Main Street Alabama is focused on bringing jobs, dollars and people back to Alabama’s historic communities. Economic development is at the heart of our efforts to revitalize downtowns and neighborhoods. We have developed a tiered program of services to help communities organize themselves for success, improve the design of their neighborhoods, promote their districts and enhance their economic base.
Towns and cities in Alabama like Athens, Decatur, Opelika, Cullman, Gadsden, Fairhope, Florence and Auburn speak for themselves. If you have been to any of these lately you will see almost 100% of storefronts occupied, lots of restaurants, gift shops, art galleries and entertainment venues. These towns have thriving downtowns again much in part to their becoming a certified Main Street downtown.
Fort Payne has gone through several steps already. Main Street has made a public presentation, and the Fort Payne Merchants Association has sent Lynn Brewer and Connie Fuller to the Main Street annual seminar of which must be attended in order to fill out an application to be considered eligible for Main Street selection. Only three cities per year are selected. The selection committee takes a look at how ready our community is to begin the program. Things like the willingness of business owners to participate and how engaged the local elected officials and community leaders are toward the program. Once selected as a Main Street community the process begins which is four tiered.
1-    Technical Assistance; How to get funding, training seminars, market analysis, strategic planning, planning guides and on-site visits.
2-    Educational Recourses; Multitier program to instruct and educate each step of the process toward a successful Main Street downtown.
3-    Downtown Network; Networking with existing successful Main Street cities for help and advice.
4-    Designated Main Street; Officially a Main Street city and can use the official trademark logo’s and sign package making it a Main Street Community.
There are many benefits that accrue as a city or town becomes a Main Street community. More jobs, more open businesses and more tourism. Most historic Main Street communities have become successful tourist towns. The historic quality of the old downtown areas coupled with the ambience it projects tend to attract restaurants, bars, boutique shopping, antiques stores, the arts, cultural events and museums, walking parks, gardens, coffee shops, craft beers, wineries and all the things visitors like to go to.