Playing to a televised audience of Watauga County business leaders, the Boone Area and Blowing Rock Chambers of Commerce presented the 5th Annual High Country Economic Kickoff, Thursday, January 28th, from the stage of the historic Appalachian Theatre in Downtown Boone. The event was presented by Peak Insurance Group with additional sponsorship support from 4 Forty Four, Allen Wealth Management, and Skyline National Bank.
Dr. Harry Davis, North Carolina Bankers Association Professor of Banking and Economist, presented a snapshot of the current pandemic-induced “service-sector” recession, and identified industries that continue to experience rapid growth. He presented comparative data regarding income distribution and unemployment rates that provided perspective on how Watauga County ranks against State and National levels.
Dr. Davis also touched on the in-migration of urban homeowners to rural areas and the strength of the High Country Real Estate market. Last year, the High Country Association of REALTORS reported a 25% rise in homes sold and a 48% increase in sales value over 2019, on the way to $1.182 billion in sales across the High Country region.
“Housing will remain strong. I think tourism and hospitality are going to spring back very strong later in the summer, and I’m assuming the (COVID-19) vaccine is going to get out in record numbers and get into our arms,” Dr. Davis said. “Next August is a critical month because that’s when colleges and universities across the country go back to work. I think every effort will be made to get as many people vaccinated as humaly possible, certainly by the end of August.”
Kent Tarbutton, owner of Chetola Resort and Spa in Blowing Rock, provided past experiences and expertise on the state of hospitality industry in Watauga County, including projections for the future travel trends and the impact of the COVID-19 vaccine. He reported the Top 3 factors likely to influence travel moving forward and commented on the unique position that Watauga County holds.
“With national travel demand continuing to lag normal levels, projections for 2021 show a slow rebound for the industry that will begin to accelerate in 2022,” Tarbutton said. “Group sales may see a slight increase with small groups (under 25) in the 3rd quarter of 2021 and increase more substantially with larger groups by the end of the 2ond quarter of 2022. Watauga County will continue to far exceed the national norms with continued leisure travel from our main urban markets, and we are seeing that now in both housing and lodging”.
Appalachian State University Chancellor Dr. Sheri Everts provided an update on Spring 2021 campus operations and expanded on operational challenges and strategies for the year ahead. She included comments about projects and goals that do not include COVID-19 as the primary driver of conversation. Dr. Everts shared how App State faculty and academic leaders are committed to making real and powerful differences for our local community during the pandemic, with initiatives ranging from financial support and sustainability efforts to community partnerships and meal distribution aimed at the social and economic betterment of the region.
“As the largest employer and educational institution in the region, we have prioritized being a partner in the local, regional, and state responses to the pandemic, while also looking forward to a future where COVID-19 is not the primary driver in our decision making,” Dr. Everts said. “We have delayed the return to campus for the spring semester until February 1st, and during this time we are utilizing teleworking to the greatest extent possible. But our campus is open, with emergency management protocols activated, and operational modifications and precautions in place.”
The Boone Area Chamber of Commerce awarded its 2020 Business of the Year awards. Mountain Vista Window Washing was selected as Startup Business of the Year. Local Lion was selected as Small Business of the Year and the Paul H. Broyhill Wellness Center was tabbed as Large Business of the Year.