Statewide: Western region, October 2014

 In 2014-10

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A recovery and reinvestment act
Buncombe County’s 8% growth in visitor spending last year — to about $901 million — was the largest percentage increase in the state, according to an annual study by Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Travel Association. Expect more of the same this year. Local tourism is benefiting from the steadily improving national economy, with more people able to afford visits to established Asheville attractions such as Grove Park Inn and Biltmore Estate and new ones including approximately 20 craft breweries. In July, the county’s unemployment rate was 5.2%, compared with the state’s 6.5%. “Tourism in Asheville has led the resurgence of the economy and job creation,” says Stephanie Pace Brown, executive director of the Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau. Though locals might bristle at downtown Asheville’s traffic snarls, tourism officials are planning to use the increased tax revenue to lure even more visitors. The bureau will spend $4 million on media and advertising this fiscal year, compared with $2.3 million five years ago. It will expand television advertising from four markets — Raleigh, Charlotte, Greensboro and Atlanta — last year to nine, with Columbia and Charleston, S.C., added in the spring and Knoxville, Tenn., Nashville and Cincinnati this fall. “From a long-term, big-picture perspective, we’ve had a very strong focus on reinvesting occupancy tax dollars into sales and advertising that drive visitation,” Brown says.

Briefs

BREVARDNew Excelsior will create 80 jobs and invest $5.5 million over three years to restore and expand a local printing plant once owned by Yonkers, N.Y.-based Excelsior Packaging Group. Annual pay will average more than $25,000, lower than Transylvania County’s $32,440. New Excelsior is a new division of Lyndhurst, N.J.-based Sigma Plastics Group, which makes packaging and films for food-service, health-care and other industries.

FLETCHER — Scott Hamilton, former CEO of AdvantageWest Economic Development Group, was named executive director of Appalachian Regional Commission in September. The Washington, D.C.-based partnership of federal, state and local governments funds business-development, education, transportation and housing projects in 13 states. Hamilton worked nine years at AdvantageWest and was its president and chief executive since 2009.

ASHEVILLEAsheville Regional Airport will spend $64 million to replace its runway. The five-year project began in August with construction of a temporary runway that will be converted to a taxiway once the new one is completed, scheduled for 2018. The Federal Aviation Administration and N.C. Department of Transportation will contribute about $50 million toward the project.

CANTON — The General Assembly approved $12 million in incentives over six years for Evergreen Packaging to convert the coal-fired boilers at its local paper mill to natural gas. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is requiring the mill, opened in 1908, to reduce its use of coal to meet new emissions standards (Statewide, September).

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