ST. PAUL, VA – JUNE 7, 2023 — The marketing of tourism-related businesses and assets located in the seven-county, one city area of VCEDA received a boost recently as an up to $50,000 grant was awarded to the Heart of Appalachia Tourism Authority from the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority (VCEDA) Tourism Capital Improvement Matching Fund.
The Heart of Appalachia Tourism Authority (HOA) was created by the Virginia General Assembly in 1993 to “promote, expand and develop the tourism industries of this coal-producing region as a whole.” HOA covers the same eight localities as VCEDA.
“The Heart of Appalachia has been an integral part of the marketing of the region as a tourism destination and that has also served to support smaller tourism-related businesses throughout the region,” said Jonathan Belcher, VCEDA executive director/general counsel. “VCEDA is pleased to assist in the continued marketing efforts of the authority as it promotes the region as a travel destination. Tourism is an important part of economic development statewide, including in our region, as it both directly and indirectly assists venues in the region to continue to thrive and grow. HOA projects employing one additional full-time and one additional part-time employee within four years.”
According to a study released by the Virginia Tourism Corporation in 2020 which was conducted by TourismEconomics.com, Virginia tourism supported a total of 255,764 jobs statewide when indirect and induced impacts are considered. The tourism sector, it noted, represents 5 percent of all jobs in Virginia.
Among the planned uses for the most recent grant to HOA is the printing of tourism marketing materials including the Appalachian Backroads map and Heart of Appalachia Travel Guide. The funds will also be used to develop and revive the Heart of Appalachia Scenic Drive and Bike Route, which was established more than 20 years ago and stretches more than 100 miles though Tazewell, Russell and Wise counties.
According to the HOA application, new technology now allows the opportunity to repackage the scenic drive and bike route in a “tour” format which will allow visitors to drive or bike the route not only with navigational capabilities, but accompanied by audio and visual representations of the history and attractions along the way.
Since 2001, not including the current grant, HOA has received multiple grants totaling $310,000 from VCEDA which have been utilized for operational and marketing costs as well as for equipment and for the HOA destination center project in St. Paul.
“With these funds, we will update and redesign our print marketing materials, which serve as windows into the beauty and cultural heritage of our region,” said Kim Smith, Heart of Appalachia interim director. “These materials are requested daily by potential tourists from all over the U.S. and as far away as Iceland and are distributed across multiple states through our partners, Print Distribution and Virginia Tourism.
“In addition, the funds will serve to grow and promote the Heart of Appalachia Scenic Bike Route,” Smith added. “This route, created in the early 2000s, showcases some of the region’s most breathtaking vistas and hidden gems. The Heart of Appalachia app will allow for an interactive experience, creating connectivity between the visitor and the region. The Heart of Appalachia Scenic Bike Route will not only attract outdoor enthusiasts, but it will also showcase the heart and soul of our communities. We are extremely grateful to VCEDA for its continued support of this region and our organization.”
About Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority and Southwest Virginia’s e-Region: The Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority, created by the Virginia General Assembly in 1988 to enhance and diversify the region’s economy and help create jobs, markets Southwest Virginia’s e-Region and its focus on electronic information technology, energy, education, emerging technologies, and entrepreneurship. VCEDA is a unique economic development organization that manages funds for economic development projects from a percentage of the coal and natural gas severance taxes paid by coal and natural gas companies that operate in the region. Located in southwestern Virginia, the region includes Buchanan, Dickenson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Tazewell, and Wise counties and the City of Norton. www.vceda.us or www.e-Region.org.