Focusing on Warren County’s outdoor beauty – which offers areas for caving, hiking, biking and kayaking – the county’s Economic and Agricultural Development Committee met Tuesday to discuss ways to bring more tourism money into the county.
Commissioner Ron Lee said, “Tourism dollars are the cheapest ones to go after. You don’t have to build a building for somebody. You promote what you have and what talents you have here in Warren County.”
“On a sunny day, there are probably 40 or 50 people canoeing and kayaking on the river from Pepper Branch down to Rocket Park and the VFW,” said McMinnville Mayor Jimmy Haley, who attended the meeting. “That is one of those things we aren’t really marketing. If we’re promoting recreational tourism with caving and biking and hiking and kayaking, we’ve got Rock Island. But, some people still can’t grasp it because we’ve not put it out there for them to grasp.”
Commissioner Les Trotman said, “I’ve never known anywhere where a student went that mom and dad’s money didn’t go with them. They all have kayaking, rafting, canoeing, whatever it may be. They just don’t know about Rock Island. The bottom line is, if we could pool our assets and do that, I think you would see a tremendous amount of students coming in here, bringing mom and dad’s money with them, canoeing the rivers and kayaking at Rock Island. It could be a major, major area for kids to come to because it’s centrally located. They can get her within hours from any major university in the state. They will come. They may even come 10 or 12 at a time.”
Mayor Haley said, “Economic development is more than just industry too. It’s tourism, it’s retail, it’s retirement, it’s recreational. It’s a different picture sometimes than what we focus on. Tourism is the No. 1 industry in Tennessee right now. That is creating more jobs. Tourists spend more money. The Industrial Development Board focuses more on industry so that means retail and tourism and other things are just out there hanging.”
Elected officials also discussed expanding on the already popular Bluegrass Underground which brings tourism dollars into the county.
“Bluegrass Underground is already big. Before it’s over, it’s going to be huge,” said Trotman. “There are people coming in here from all over the country just to watch it. If we can develop that a little bit. I mean Bonnaroo brings what, $50 million to Coffee County?” said Trotman.
County Executive John Pelham said he would like to see private investors build hotels or restaurants or retail establishments in Warren County. “If I was going to make my priority list, I would like to see some private investment coming into our community. We have some people who have got some dollars that could come in here and make investments into businesses that could recoup money for them and make them money. What can we do to spur private investment? What can we do to get that person who has money in the bank investing on some type of investment that is giving them a return of 4 or 5 percent? What can we do to get that person to pull that money out and build a new hotel in McMinnville or build a new whatever and prove to them that not only are you investing in your community but that hotel is going to give you a greater return than what you are getting right now.”
Haley said the city is going to hold a couple of tourism summits later in the summer.
“Most successful cities sat down and had an ‘I Have a Dream’ session, looking at where they wanted to be 10 years, 15 years down the road. Committees and groups will work on things together, possibly assign a group to get qualifying kayak races for the Olympics. That is how Chattanooga turned itself around. They put the right people in there and said, ‘Dream as big as you can dream.’ They said, ‘Let’s try to make this happen.’ They said, ‘Let’s make Chattanooga a tourism destination place.’”
Elected officials decided to meet again to discuss ways to further tourism in Warren County.