By Richard K. Blackwell
Recently, many area residents may have heard that Oconee has created a “tourism/destination marketing strategy” with the purpose to not only showcase the natural assets of our county, but to build upon them.
Numerous one-on-one interviews, committee meetings and public presentations were conducted over a nine-month period to ensure the contents of the destination marketing strategy match what needs and what it can do.
Tourism is big business in the Palmetto State. It is one of the main economic drivers. Oconee isn’t going to be Myrtle Beach, but we can definitely leverage our assets to be a destination in the foothills.
Oconee County is blessed with an abundance of natural resources which are already utilized for outdoor recreation, yet it is falling short as a recognized outdoor recreation destination. Just as Charleston, has become the premier historic destination of South Carolina, Oconee has the ability to surface as the premier outdoor recreation destination for the state.
Tourism market trends, as well as increased trends in healthy living, are a perfect recipe for building, marketing and economically benefitting from outdoor recreation in Oconee. The Outdoor Industry Association reports that outdoor recreation is essential to the American economy and that every year Americans spend an estimated $646 billion on outdoor recreation - on gear, vehicles, trips, travel-related expenses and more. This creates jobs, supports communities, generates tax revenue and helps drive the economy. Throughout America, people recognize that outdoor recreation and open spaces attract and sustain families and businesses, creates healthy communities and fosters a high quality of life.
Mountains, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, hiking, biking, fishing, watersports and more already draw outdoor enthusiasts. Oconee is strategically located near the metropolitan areas of Charlotte, Atlanta, Greenville and Columbia and is fortunate enough to own claim to a National Scenic Byway in Highway 11 as well as a National Wild and Scenic River in the Chattooga.
Resources alone will not make a tourism destination. Investment in public access points, tourism infrastructure, marketing and downtown development in Oconee’s communities will provide for top quality visitor amenities and services. By doing so, Oconee can become a one-of-a-kind outdoor recreation destination for the Southeastern United States. It will require leadership from elected officials, collaboration among the county and cities, cooperation among the public and private sectors and an understanding by the residents that local investment is crucial. This is the next step in creating a sense of place that is attractive to many generations of families, further diversifying our economic base and ensuring that the “golden corner of South Carolina” shines bright.
Richard K. Blackwell is the executive director of Oconee Economic Alliance, which is a public-private nonprofit effort to accelerate job creation and capital investment, increase per capita income, diversify the local tax base and generate awareness of Oconee County as a business location. To learn more visit www.InvestOconeeSC.com.