Friday, June 21, 2024

The sun will shine on tourism during the solar eclipse

In varying degrees, the Aug. 21 eclipse will be visible throughout all states in the contiguous U.S. The path of totality will be only 70 miles wide, traversing 14 states, including a small corner of western N.C.

The frog will swallow the summer sun for less than 3 minutes, but leaders of western North Carolina’s $2.3 billion annual hospitality and tourism industry figure that’ll boost fortunes until the creek runs dry. “Nvdo tsulisihvsgiyi” – that’s Cherokee folklore for solar eclipse – will lure 100,000 or more visitors to the region next month.

How many more is unknown, which is triggering a military-scale response by local, state and federal authorities. The National Park Service says it sold out more than 1,300 tickets for a viewing area atop 6,643-foot Clingmans Dome, in Swain County, at $30 each in a matter of hours.

“We’ve been planning for this for 16 months,” says Nick Breedlove, director of the Jackson County Tourism Development Authority. “In tourism, we call an event like this the first date,” he says. “We have people coming from as far as the United Kingdom and France for the eclipse itself, but most will stay a few days or a week.”

Steve Morse, who heads the hospitality and tourism curriculum at Western Carolina University’s business school in Cullowhee, elaborates. “Many first-time tourists later become business investors” or buy second homes, he says.

Total eclipses like the one on Aug. 21 are rare — the most similar one that swept across the nation from Pacific to Atlantic was in 1918. The first effects will be seen shortly after 1 p.m., and by about 2:30, parts of Cherokee, Graham, Swain, Clay, Jackson and Transylvania counties will plunge into near total darkness. In Andrews, in Cherokee County, that will be about 2 minutes and 38 seconds; in Sylva, about 1:44.

The times are brief but among the longest in the 14-state path of the total eclipse. Astronomers say effects can be startling: Bright planets and stars might become visible, and night birds sometimes sing. Such phenomena account for the Cherokees’ elaborate eclipse mythology, says Robert Jumper, travel and promotion director of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in Swain County. The tribe is planning a three-day event culminating with the eclipse, he says. On a typical August weekend, the reservation might have 10,000 visitors; that could double or more.

Lodging inventories in Cashiers and Sylva were expected to be sold out by mid-June, Breedlove says. Though not in the path of the total eclipse, Asheville is becoming “a base camp of sorts” for the spillover, says Dodie Stephens, spokeswoman for the local convention and visitors bureau, with some hotel chains offering eclipse packages.

For the western region, the dark sky is bright news, after wildfires and drought singed the 2016 tourism season. The state has pledged resources to help with matters such as reprogramming town stoplights and coordinating traffic flow on tiny rural roads, says Eleanor Talley, tourism spokeswoman for the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina.

“This is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime event for most people,” Talley says.

MORGANTON — Caterpillar will close its local plant, where it employs about 85 people making engine components. The Peoria, Ill.-based company has shuttered more than 30 plants and cut more than 16,000 jobs since it began restructuring in 2015.

HUDSON — Adhezion Biomedical will create 40 jobs over four years and invest $3.5 million in an expansion of its local plant, which opened in 2002. The company, based near Reading, Pa., makes medical adhesive and wound-care products.

TAYLORSVILLE — Borealis Compounds will invest $15 million and create 37 jobs in a new plant. The Vienna, Austria-based company will make plastic materials for use in car parts such as bumpers, trims and dashboards. The new jobs will pay an average annual wage of $40,125, 30% higher than Alexander County’s $30,631.

ASHEVILLE — After raising $4.7 million, Riverbend Malt House is expanding, with plans to create 15 jobs and invest $9.5 million over four years. Started in 2010, the company processes and sells malts for craft brewers and distillers.

ASHEVILLE — Wicker Park Capital Management, based in Savannah, Ga., paid $28.3 million for 15 downtown properties, including the 13-story Jackson Building, built in 1924, on Pack Square.

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