Highland County Economic Development Authority’s February Meeting
At the Highland County Economic Development Authority’s February meeting, there was a long discussion on how to help support businesses that will be open the second and third weekends of March, even though the Maple Festival has been cancelled. EDA member Henry Budzinski suggested the EDA support the Chamber and businesses by doing regional, but not state wide, advertising. He said the ads could feature general information, stress COVID guidelines, mention the month of March, but not mention the two weekends or any specific businesses. He said this marketing would supplement what the Chamber is doing. Valeri Lowry, EDA member and a sugar camp owner, said they want to keep the two weekends foremost in peoples’ minds, saying it is critical to keep people coming to Highland. County Supervisor David Blanchard was in attendance and said he was surprised the conversation was occurring. He said county government could not support the EDA in promoting the two weekends, saying the EDA is discussing inviting people to the county instead of the businesses doing it themselves. He said county government can’t invite people, but the EDA is a stand-alone entity and can do what it wants to do. When the possibility of any legal liability was discussed, Blanchard said liability would begin with the EDA, but would blow back to the Board of Supervisors.
Betty Mitchell, Economic Development Officer for the EDA, said the Chamber and the Tourism Council had not asked the EDA to help with efforts and she said the EDA doesn’t typically spend money on advertising. Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Chris Swecker said the Chamber is trying to support it’s member businesses without doing a sanctioned event. Swecker said they are not asking for assistance and he is concerned about sending out mixed messages with any advertising. He said the Chamber is not going to point to the second and third weekends and that businesses can use the community calendar on the Chamber website to get the word out about what they are offering.
During the discussion, EDA member and Tourism Council Member Bryan Obaugh said he felt this marketing and promotion suggestion was more in line with the work of the Tourism Council. In the midst of the discussion, Obaugh made a motion that the EDA not support the endeavor of advertising and turn it over to the Tourism Council. The motion passed, with Henry Budzinski voting no and Valeri Lowry abstaining.
Obaugh then asked if a special meeting of the Tourism Council could be held to discuss the advertising. Tourism Council member Marty Leach asked who would do the advertising, since it is not county supported and since the Tourism Council is a board with no employees. Valeri Lowry suggested that Dorothy Stephenson, who publishes the HighlandCountyVA blog, could help and Henry Budzinski also said that he could help.
In other business, Betty Mitchell gave an update on Hayfields Farm and the possibility of it becoming a regional park or a state park. She said work is moving ahead with creating a feasibility study requested by the General Assembly on how a transfer might be made between state agencies. Community input sessions will be held at a future date.