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Warren County Economic Development Commission fights back against the pandemic
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WARRENTON — Just like anywhere else, the pandemic has impacted those dealing with Warren County tourism.

But, there are positives amid all the uncertainty.

The Warren County Economic Development is one of more than 25 departments in the Warren County government organization.

The department has been following the same protocols as the rest of the organization, handling business by appointment only, over the phone, and with virtual meetings. “If anything, the push for remote meetings has allowed for a streamlining and efficiency of work because it has cut out a lot of travel,” Charla Duncan, economic development director (interim basis) senior assistant to the county manager, said in an email.

Warren County does not have a Tourism Development Authority or a separate tourism department. Rather, tourism is a function of the Economic Development Department, however, the county does harbor what she referred to as “an active chamber” with the Lake Gaston Regional Chamber of Commerce — they are not a county entity, though.

The Warren County Economic Development Commission has been busy.

In the spring when the pandemic hit, they weren’t sure how the pandemic would affect their sales and use tax numbers, she said in the email. Across the nation, they were seeing the same questions from local government about how travel would impact sales tax.

“We are looking even closer at the trends of our sales and use tax numbers and working to analyze what the dips and the growth mean for our county and for our small businesses,” she said in the email. “There are many uncertainties around the impact of the pandemic on our community, but we are relying even more so on the data to give us the bigger picture information so that we can build up an appropriate strategy moving forward. This is not just for tourism, but for economic development as a whole.”

They’re “maintaining close communication” with “the COG” and state partner agencies to learn about relief funds as well as programs for their area businesses. Even further, they’ll be releasing their first existing industries survey this week, she said in the Oct. 21 email. She said they want to use this survey to collect data about their businesses and to get contact information and build relationships so that “we can push out education, funding, and relief opportunities.”

Even further, they continue to operate their Visit Warren County website (warrencounty.com), as well as their Visit Warren County Facebook page — @WarrenCountyNC.

Plus, they’re talking with advertisers of what she referred to as “major publications” about ways to “strategically” plan for advertising through the end of the year and into 2021, she said in the email.

As if that wasn’t enough, the Warren County Economic Development Commission “recently took advantage” of the Visit NC Marketing Credit program and were awarded a $10,000 marketing credit, which they shall be utilizing toward a digital marketing campaign, according to her.

“We maintain open communication with our LKG Regional Chamber of Commerce and are working to build a relationship with that organization’s new director,” she said in the email. In a county the size of Warren, and without a TDA [Tourism Development Authority], we are working to leverage partnerships with our colleague organizations to make sure we are all promoting Warren County together.”

And, of course, the rural county boasts all kinds of vegetation and scenic spots to check out.

She noted they are “fortunate” to harbor what she described as “great natural resources that are tourism assets for us in Warren County.”

“The pandemic has encouraged folks to embrace open air and open space in a way that has really highlighted outdoor recreation and rural tourism,” she added.

Finally, she said they shall be seeking legislative approval to implement a hotel tax and they shall have to have a Tourism Development Authority— they don’t know what that looks like yet —, which shall “hopefully lead” to a further focus on bettering “tourism related activity” in the county.

Parade to the Polls brings schools together
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HENDERSON — Charter- and traditional-school students and staff joined forces in Henderson on Thursday to encourage all those who are eligible to get out and vote in the 2020 election.

The effort on Thursday morning brought together people from Henderson Collegiate and Vance County High School, and ended with a car caravan to early voting sites, where those old enough could register to vote, cast ballots or both.

“We live in a world where so many people have fought for our right to vote but not so many people are exercising this right,” said Kimberlyn Rojo-Rojas, a student at Henderson Collegiate, whose high school hosted the gathering. “You shouldn’t view your vote as a joke or something that does not matter. This is because your vote has so much power.”

Tymiah Wimbush, added, “Officials are supposed to represent our interests and make decisions on our behalf, making our duty to vote for those who best represent us and our interests very important and impactful.”

Given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing was the order of the day, with many participants watching from their cars and honking their horns to signal approval of what Rojo-Rojas, Wimbush and two other HC students had to say.

That made it a bit hard for organizers to say how many people participated in all, but they voiced confidence that the “parade to the polls” had an impact.

Joe Sharrow, Vance High’s assistant principal and athletic director, said he went to the early voting site at Aycock Recreation Center and found “a decent little crowd there, a couple dozen maybe.”

Some vehicles went to sites in Granville and Warren counties because Henderson Collegiate as a charter school draws students from those communities also, not just from Vance County.

And some students, themselves unable to vote because they’re not yet old enough, brought their parents along to encourage and make sure they cast ballots, Sharrow said.

Henderson Collegiate officials announced plans for the event early this month, with school Chief of Staff Caitlin Terranova saying organizers wanted to encourage their “historically marginalized students to have and use their voices in one of the most power[ful] systems in our country.”

HC co-founder and CEO Eric Sanchez also “reached out to us,” making it “a collective partnership” and hopefully a community wide thing, Sharrow said, adding that in the past only about 20% of people ages 18 to 29 participate in elections.

“It was a great experience to partner with them,” Sharrow said of the joint project with Henderson Collegiate. “They were very welcoming to us and I hope it leads to more partnerships between our schools in the future.”

Contact Ray Gronberg at rgronberg@hendersondispatch.com or by phone at 252-436-2850.