By Nathan Ham
The Avery County Chamber of Commerce held its annual awards dinner at the Crossnore School on Monday night to honor businesses, volunteers, students and non-profit organizations and their successes in Avery County.
During the event dinner, there was also entertainment provided by Welter Entertainment and the Crossnore Weavers Fashion Show.
Angelina Spencer, the Chief Program Officer for the Crossnore School and Children’s Home welcomed everyone to the school and shared a little information on what they do at Crossnore.
“We do care every day for foster children. There are over 12,000 foster children in just the state of North Carolina. Here we have 112 residential beds for children that live here, on our Winston-Salem campus, we have 54 beds licensed right now,” Spencer said. “We also have community foster homes in this area, the Winston-Salem area and the Charlotte area, we now have 47 foster homes, families that commit their time to taking care of foster children. That’s what we do every day and we love that and we’re blessed to be able to do it.”
Wit Tuttell, the Vice President of Tourism and Marketing for the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC) and the Executive Director of Visit NC, spoke about the importance of tourism in the area and the increased tourism presence in Avery County.
“I think people don’t realize what a business tourism is and what an economic driver it is and how important it is as an industry. Tourism brings so much to the economy and I think it is the business of the future. For the state of North Carolina, visitors spend $24 billion a year. That’s 50 million people that come here, spend money, and then leave. They leave $1.7 billion in tax revenue for state and local governments. Those are taxes that we would have to pay if they weren’t here,” said Tuttell. “Avery County has done a great job of attracting those visitors. $126 million were spent by visitors in Avery County last year. That’s a 5.1 percent increase, that’s higher than the state increase, in fact in the entire Northwestern Region of North Carolina, Avery County had the highest percentage increase in visitor spending.”
Tuttell went on to add that not only is the tourism revenue important, but it also brings more jobs to each area where tourism continues to grow.
“We’re all in the tourism industry and we’re proud of what North Carolina has done. We’re the sixth most visited state in America. I think that’s really impressive. Our tourism is growing every year. Tourism is important because it helps people throughout the job cycle. It helps young people get that first job, that part time job working at a ski resort. It gives people full time jobs and it also helps people when they retire, they can go work in the tourism industry part time,” Tuttell said. “Tourism is like any other business, you have to invest in it in order for it to grow. If you don’t invest in your business, it will not grow. One of the most important things we’re trying to do is get more investment in tourism, particularly in marketing and product. Without that important driver of tourism, 25 counties will suffer.”
Avery County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Melynda Pepple highlighted the increasing members in the chamber and also how tourism impacts the county.
“We have over 380 members right now, we’ve introduced 35 new members to the chamber,” said Pepple.
One of the things the chamber provides is the Avery County Guide where each business is mentioned in the guide. It’s a very popular item for visitors in the area to pick up and is sent to other areas across the state.
“We print 45,000 guides and ship to over 90 chambers and visitors centers in the state. People are coming here and we are excited about that. Avery County is an awesome place to be and I thank you for being part of it,” said Pepple. “It takes each of you partnering together to make a community. This last year has been a challenge and we’ve had to make some decisions especially with our Woolly Worm festival. I saw a community come together like I never have before. I felt a warmth and embrace from our community and from our leaders like never before. You just can’t make that happen, that happens with people working together.”
As part of the celebration dinner, the Avery County Chamber of Commerce acknowledged their Non-profit of the Year, Volunteer of the Year, Student of the Year, Business Person of the Year and Business of the Year. Jeff Davis, a member of the Avery County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, served as master of ceremonies and presented the awards.
The Non-profit of the Year Award went to Feeding Avery Families. The organization has worked very hard to provide food and resources for families in Avery County. Feeding Avery Families has also dealt with some adversity of its own, including losing their distribution center location and dealing with a decrease in funding. The organization has still thrived as a primary food support group for families in Avery County that are in desperate need of food. Feeding Avery Families puts together volunteers that organize food donations and put food boxes together and have become an inspiration to others in the non-profit community.
Kathy Rimmer was named as the Volunteer of the Year. She was a graduate of the 2017 Leadership Avery program and volunteered as a group facilitator in 2018. Rimmer is the secretary for the Williams YMCA Board of Directors and assists with fundraising efforts. She also organizes “Casting for Recovery,” a local group that brings breast cancer survivors together through fly-fishing.
The Student of the Year Award was given to Elisabeth Kitchin. She has been a member of the student government all four years she attended Avery High STEM Academy. She was voted Student Body President her junior and senior years. Kitchin ranks second in her glass with a weighted GPA of 4.6087. She also attended the North Carolina School of Science and Math where she held an unweighted GPA of 4.0. Outside of the classroom, Kitchin played varsity tennis for all four years including being named team captain the last two years. She is President of the Key Club and has been a member all four years of high school. Kitchin is also a four-year member of HOSA and the Drama Club.
The Business Person of the Year Award went to Jesse Pope, the Executive Director of the non-profit Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation. Pope has 16 years of experience working at Grandfather Mountain in many different capacities, including Backcountry Ranger, animal keeper, chief naturalist and most recently the Assistant Vice President helping oversee day-to-day park operations. Pope is a graduate of Lees-McRae College and Montreat College and is very passionate about the Stewardship Foundation’s mission to inspire conservation of the natural world by helping guests explore, understand and value everything that Grandfather Mountain has to offer.
Yellow Mountain Enterprises was selected as the Business of the Year. They provide employment opportunities for underserved groups in the community, including adults with learning disabilities and physical handicaps. They do this while also providing necessary services in Avery County and surrounding counties for affordable prices. The products they offer are of outstanding quality and the customer service is remarkable. They have participated in many sporting and community events and have worked to expand their vision and brand in the county.
The Avery County Chamber of Commerce would like to thank Crossnore School and Children’s home for hosting the event, as well as event sponsors First Citizens Bank, Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation, Isley Construction and High Country Wealth Management.