West: Cannon plays catch-up on tourism

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When it comes to tourism, Cannon County is playing catch-up to surrounding counties.

During 2013, tourism generated $3.89 million in direct expenditures. The figure was about five percent higher than 2012's figure of $3.87 million.

Those million dollar numbers are greatly surpassed by other counties in the Upper Cumberland region. Only Fentress County had less tourism revenues with $2.19 million.

Fentress does have 12 properties and districts listed on the National Register in the county, including one National Historic Landmark, the Alvin C. York home in Pall Mall.

Cannon County has six properties listed on the National Register with the Readyville Mill being the most notable. The "biggest" attraction in the county is the Arts Center of Cannon County.

The folks at the Arts Center are among those pushing the idea of tourism in Cannon County.
"By population we are 79th in the state. By tourism revenue we are 90th. From a strictly numbers perspective, we need to be 79th or better in tourism revenue," said Neal Appelbaum, executive director of the Arts Center. "It is an achievable goal that will ultimately show up in the wallets of our local businesses and their employees."

The Arts Center annually commands a worldwide audience of 40,000 through its facility and over 100,000 through web sites, publications and other projects. Drawing on the blue-collar roots of Woodbury, the organization focuses on self-sufficiency, fiscal responsibility and social entrepreneurship. Since its inception in 1980, The Arts Center has averaged over 85 percent earned income and has never run an operating deficit.

For an example, the recent White Oak Festival, held annually at the Arts Center, drew a record crowd of 4,000 visitors to Woodbury.

But Cannon County's tourism business is a fledgling compared to nearby Rutherford County.

Figures recently released by the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development and the U.S. Travel Association, show that Rutherford County saw an crease of 6.8 percent in tourist spending from 2012 to 2013.

Tourism-related spending in Rutherford County in 2013 increased from $272.88 to $291.52 million, placing Rutherford County in the top 10 counties across the state, for travel-related expenditures.

"Destination Rutherford strives to continue to make gains in the tourism arena," said Destination Rutherford Chair Bill Jones. "From sports marketing to securing large-scale events, the latest economic impact figures show that our tourism efforts are paying off in large dividends."

"Our Convention and Visitors Bureau works very hard to ensure that our community sees an annual boost in tourist spending," said Barbara Wolke, vice president of the Rutherford County Convention and Visitors Bureau. "Tourism is an instant revenue generator for the county, bringing in millions of dollars every year. We are looking forward to continuing this upward trend as new hotels are soon to open in the area."

For examples of what the Rutherford County group does, visit the visitors bureau website at www.ReadySetRutherford.com

Cannon County has upgraded its web site to reflect a new stress on tourism. Check www.cannontn.com.
With its distinctive country roots, Cannon County offers a pleasant change in outlook when compared to Murfreesboro or even Cookeville. It's a perfect day trip particularly on a cool, fall day.

Short Mountain Distillery has proved to be a popular stop for tourists especially those who lump the downhome experience with those of larger distilleries like Jack Daniels and George Dickel.

The Distillery is a quick learner when it comes to tourism. The Short Mountain area is the perfect setting for a number of events including concerts and even disc golf.

Completion of the Stillhouse Restaurant adjacent to the Distillery (forecast for November) will make it a complete destination for tourists.

Woodbury's downtown businesses also understand what tourists can bring to the community and working with the Chamber of Commerce bring several weekend events to town. The upcoming Cannon Country Christmas Open House on the Square and in downtown Woodbury on Friday, Nov. 21 and Saturday, Nov. 22. More than 20 local businesses have signed up for the annual event.

Obviously, tourism has a great potential for growth in Cannon County.

Getting the word out is part of that effort. The new, expanded CannonTN.org web site is a good starting point but its up to individual businesses to keep the tourism push going. The Chamber of Commerce also needs to continue its efforts to promote the community. Some coordination between groups would also help. Such an effort will require volunteers who aren't afraid of trying new things and perhaps stepping on a few toes as tourism slowly grows in Cannon County.

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Mike West
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