The people who try to talk people into visiting Martinsville-Henry County – and to generate revenue from those visitors to help the community – have been talked about a lot lately themselves.
That would be the Martinsville Henry County Economic Development Corporation’s Tourism Division. And just having to say that name in conversation can be a mouthful. So they use VisitMartinsville for short.
But Assistant Director of Tourism Beth Stinnett and her crew have been busy in the past few weeks, with new money, a new drawing card, a new key manager and, coming, new ideas to meet their mission.
The new money comes from the state, courtesy of Gov. Ralph Northam, who announced VisitMartinsville had received a $37,000 grant to market tourism.
The state calls this the Virginia Tourism Corporation Marketing Leverage Grant Fund. There were 44 grants for $965,000, with the goal of the investments being to let everyone know about the best parts of the commonwealth.
Martinsville and Henry County will match that $37,000 to pay for the creation of a campaign called “Martinsville Made,” the release announcing the grant said. That’s a campaign to lure visitors but also encourages them to move here.
Stinnett said in the release that the guide would build upon the amenities that lure visitors and build on the “Virginia is for Lovers” statewide campaign.
In 2020 those lures will include a new amenity that is designed to capitalize on one of the region’s biggest draws: the outdoors.
The Lily Pad RV Park and Campground recently began construction in Bassett, a $3 million investment by real estate developer Jesse Cahill to create a new lodging option for potential visitors.
The campground is on 15-18 acres near the Smith River, and, when complete, the site will have 191 spaces for RVs and 50 for tents, VisitMartinsville said in a release.
The plans include a bathhouse, canoe/kayak rentals and a convenience store on site, and Cahill said in the release that the park would employ about a dozen. Long-term concepts include meeting space.
“The addition of Lily Pad RV Park & Campground is going to be wonderful for tourism in Martinsville-Henry County,” Stinnett said in an email. “Locally there is a demand for RV and tent-camping options, so adding 100+ camping spaces is going to be well-received.
“Visitors will love the space because not only will they have access to the Smith River, but [they] will also only be minutes away from Philpott Lake and Fairy Stone State Park.”
Stinnett cited figures from a report generated by the Outdoor Industry Association that says this tourism category in Virginia produced $21.9 billion in annual consumer spending and supported 197,000 direct jobs that provided $6.5 billion in wages and salaries and $1.2 billion in state and local tax revenue.
According to a release from the VTC, in 2018, overall tourism in Virginia generated $26 billion in revenue, supported more than 234,000 jobs and provided $1.8 billion in state and local taxes.
Stinnett said that figures about Martinsville-Henry County would be available later this month – “It takes them a while to process the data and break it down for the individual cities and counties,” she said.
Tthe Bulletin reported last year that, from 2013 to 2017, the economic impact from tourism rose in every category, including employment, county tax receipts (nearly $1 million in 2017) and payroll (which hit $10.833 million).
The data showed that tourism rose from $45.4 million in 2013 to $49.8 million for Henry County and from $19.5 million to $21 million in Martinsville. Henry County’s growth largely is accelerated by the races at Martinsville Speedway.
The Bulletin also reported that payroll related to tourism also increased, going from $3.8 million to $4.43 million during that period.
To help build on those numbers going forward is Kelly Rowland, who is the new tourism marketing and client relations manager for VisitMartinsville.
Rowland, a native of Henry County, cites her 17 years in management that have provided an “extensive background in working with the public.
“I understand the importance of client relationships and intend on transfer of that knowledge from my previous role over to my new role with the EDC,” she said in an email.
“A key component of my role is to continue our working relationships with our tourism clients and keep those relationships strong. We want our clients to know that we are here for them and want to help them in any way that we can.”
And she’s quick to tout what she sees as the strengths for the region.
“Some that immediately come to mind are: The Smith River Sports Complex, Philpott Lake, Virginia Museum of Natural History, Piedmont Arts, as well as our proximity to the Blue Ridge Parkway,” she said.
Next up for VisitMartinsville is its strategic plan for growing its market share and boosting the economy. That work largely is done, Rowland said.
“We will be introducing it soon,” she said. “I will be involved, with my team, in implementing the plans and tasks that are identified.”
Steven Doyle is Local Editor of the Martinsville Bulletin. Contact him at 276-638-8801 ext. 245. Follow @StevenLDoyle.