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Tourism effort aims at distant relatives 

Since 2005, you could have had the Land of the Sky “Any Way You Like It.” Now there’s “Appalachia Comin’ Atcha.” It’s branding season in the Blue Ridge, and the latest slogan-setter is a $20,000 video target- ing visitors with a familial interest in western North Carolina.

They’re from Northern Europe, many specifically from the British Isles. “We figure they have a natural affinity for the area,” says Betty Huskins, senior vice president of AdvantageWest, which commissioned the seven-minute video. AdvantageWest is the economic-development agency for 23 counties, settled mostly by émigrés from Ireland, Scotland and Germany.

Ireland is now one of Europe’s most affluent nations, thanks to a booming high-tech industry. There’s another reason western North Carolina might be appealing. The euro is worth about $1.55, and the exchange rate of the British pound is about $1.95. “It’s sort of like the U.S. is on sale,” says Christine Mackey, director of tourism programs at the N.C. Department of Commerce.

The latest promotional effort also is a relative bargain. The video was sent to hundreds of European travel agents and is accessible via the Internet. The 2005 “Any Way You Like It” campaign cost $200,000. Despite its lower price, the newest effort doesn’t lack pizazz, flipping from rap to bluegrass and back while a narrator praises everything from Asheville’s hip-hop nightlife to hiking the Appalachian Trail and the Cherokee culture. “The message we wanted to get across is that we’re not just people sitting on the front porch picking the banjo,” Huskins says. The video was produced by a Los Angeles transplant and its score written by a former New Yorker.

AdvantageWest is trying to set more than toes tapping. Tourism is a $2.8 billion annual business that employs 30,000 in western North Carolina, and only now, Huskins says, are international visitors recovering from 9/11 fears. Mackey says no statistics exist on how many foreigners visit the region, but she estimates 300,000 to 400,000 are among 45 million annual visitors statewide.


VALDESE — Norwalk Furniture will close its Hickory Hill Furniture factory by August, idling about 165. It plans to move production to Norwalk, Ohio — its hometown — Fulton, Miss., and Livingston, Tenn.

CLYDE — Federal regulators say Haywood Regional Medical Center’s board is ill-prepared to supervise the 900-employee hospital. Board members have agreed to attend special training by October. The hospital lost Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements in February because of questions about how medications were administered.

LENOIR — Google won’t seek $2 million in incentives for 2008 from the city and Caldwell County. It’s building a data center here in return for rebates of 80% on real-estate property taxes and 100% on business property taxes for 30 years. The Mountain View, Calif.-based Internet search engine can boost its savings by delaying the rebate cycle until it finishes a second building.

MORGANTON — Grace Hospital avoided losing about $7 million a month in federal Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements by addressing investigators’ concerns about medical, patient-rights and other records.

GRANITE FALLS — Charlotte lawyer James Preston, 70, replaced Charles Snipes as chairman of Bank of Granite. Preston, a director since 2003, was chairman of Charlotte-based First Commerce before Bank of Granite bought it. Snipes, 74, retired as CEO in January.