SEAGROVE — Remembering 25 years was the focus at the Randolph County Tourism Development Authority’s (TDA) annual meeting on Dec. 14 at the Luck Comer Lail Center in Seagrove.
David Caughron, chair of the TDA Board of Directors, gave a timeline for the TDA, which began in 1997 with authorization by the Randolph County Board of Commissioners and the NC Legislature.
Caughron began by saying, “The birth of the Randolph County Tourism Development Authority began at the Randolph County Board of Commissioners meeting on Jan. 6, 1997, with a request from Hal Johnson, planning director. He reported the Strategic Planning Tourism Organizing Committee’s recommendation to create an independent Tourism Development Authority (TDA) and requested that the county commissioners seek legislative action to authorize Randolph County to levy a room occupancy and tourism development tax. … On a motion by Commissioner (Darrell) Frye and a second by Commissioner (Robbie) Davis, the board unanimously adopted the proposed resolution requesting the General Assembly to establish a room occupancy and tourism development tax.”
The first executive director was Susan Smith, who developed the first visitor information brochure in 1998. Caughron said the budget for that first year was approximately $90,000, compared to the current budget of just over $1 million.
Linda Spaulding Brown succeeded Smith and from 2001-04 formed partnerships with the four chambers of commerce in the county as well as the NC Pottery Center and Victory Junction. Brown also oversaw the creation of the first Seagrove pottery-focused information brochure and developed shuttles from Archdale hotels to the High Point Furniture Market.
Chris Bulla followed Brown and during her 15 months led the following initiatives: A Dixie Drive banner project, Randleman Lake Recreation Master Plan Funding and expansion of the TDA staff.
Tammy O’Kelley held the reins from 2006-20 and oversaw the development of the Heart of NC Visitors Bureau and management of the I-73/74 Visitor Centers in Seagrove. She welcomed Manor House Graphics as the TDA’s design firm in 2007 and DK Communications Group in 2017 for public relations.
During O’Kelley’s tenure, the TDA sponsored the Commerce Square mural in Randleman, developed the “Stay in Archdale” tourism marketing campaign and held the first Deep River Trail Task Force meeting.
Amber Scarlett became executive director following O’Kelley’s resignation in 2020, during the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic. Facing the challenges of a $400,000 reduction in the budget due to travel restrictions, Scarlett oversaw the beginning of operations at the new office at 500 Albemarle Road, Asheboro. She was forced to reduce the staff from six to two full-time workers. However, since October 2021, the TDA has regained most of the staff as travel and tourism have surged.
Caughron said that during the COVID challenges, the board began calling Scarlett and Amber Skeen, director of office management, “the Dynamic Duo.” He said they “did a wonderful job and came through on the other side with remarkable results.”
After giving the history of the TDA, Caughron then presented Scarlett with a 15-year service award. She started at the TDA in 2007, holding various positions, including tourism coordinator, tourism manager and director of tourism before becoming executive director.
Scarlett holds membership in a number of organizations around the county. In 2018 she was named Member of the Year by the Archdale-Trinity Chamber of Commerce. She managed the production of the 2019 Heart of North Carolina Travel Guide, which was named Travel Guide of the Year by LUXELife Magazine.
“I really have a fun job,” Scarlett said. “But without your support … the job wouldn’t be so easy.”
Scarlett then led the awarding of annual recognitions. With Annette Cagle, she presented the Hospitality Hero Award to Kenneth Broadway, a staff member with the I-73/74 Visitor Centers.
WIth Susan Dosier of DK Communications, Scarlett announced that the Mary Joan Pugh Excellence in Hospitality Award was going to the Seagrove pottery community as a whole.
Finally, Richard Schoenberger of Manor House Graphics presented the cover for the 2023 Official Travel Guide. The theme is “The Year of the Trail.”
From the Randolph County Tourism Development Authority Annual Report for 2021:
•Visitors spent $172.06 million in 2021.
•That spending resulted in tax relief to each Randolph County resident of $90.90.
•State tax revenues from visitor spending amounted to $8.2 million.
•Local tax revenues from visitor spending amounted to $5 million.
•Total payroll generated by the tourism industry was $41.1 million.
•Tourism resulted in 1,127 jobs.
•Of 29 destinations surveyed, total attendance was 1,310,281, a 158 percent increase over 2020.
•Top destination states to Randolph County, in order of visitors: North Carolina, Florida, South Carolina, Ohio and Virginia.
•Top destinations from North Carolina, in order of visitors: Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill, Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point, Charlotte/Gastonia/Concord, Wilmington/Southport and Pinehurst/Southern Pines.
•Most online requests from international countries, in order: Iran, India, Canada, Germany and Poland.
•Top visitor requests: Heart of NC general information, Seagrove Pottery, North Carolina Zoo, History & Heritage and Deep River State Trail.