Chamber Establishes Convention Bureau
Recently Wetzel County was made a Convention and Visitors Bureau thanks to many local businesses, organizations, and individuals. In particular, the Chamber of Commerce and its Pillar III Chairperson Sandy Hunt were essential in this exciting boost to the county’s economic development.
A Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) is a not-for-profit organization supported by transient room tax, government budget allocations, private membership, or a combination of any or all three. The bureau in each city, county, or region has responsibilities to encourage groups to hold meetings or events in their represented area and to assist such groups in planning those events. They also aim to encourage tourists to visit the area and help the long-term development of communities through a travel and tourism strategy.
Hunt has been working with the Chamber of Commerce since the Evening of Discovery that was hosted a couple of years ago by the Chamber at the Lewis Wetzel Family Center. “It was basically a huge brainstorming session,” says Hunt. “It brought together people from all over the county to identify what we could and should be doing in Wetzel County to help foster both economic development and tourism.” From that evening, there were four “Pillars” or committees established-each with its own long-term goals and agenda. Hunt volunteered to Chair Pillar III, Community Involvement. One of the items on Pillar III’s agenda was tourism. Last year the goal was to develop a tourism brochure for Wetzel County, which will be completed in early spring. At the August board meeting of the chamber, Mindy Mall presented an invitation to the Governor’s Conference on Tourism to be held in September at Snowshoe Resort.
Hunt volunteered to attend the Governor’s Conference at which the governor spoke about the benefits of tourism to the state as well as various regions within the state. There were also legislative panels as well as break-out training sessions. Tourism contributes 12 million dollars a day to West Virginia’s economy. “From Hundred to Paden City to Jacksonburg to New Martinsville and Proctor, we have a lot to offer,” says Hunt proudly. “And it was in developing the tourism brochure that our committee saw just how much there is to see and do in Wetzel County.”
The committee not only has members of the Chamber of Commerce, but a representative from the following areas: Chamber of Commerce Pillar IV, economic development; fairs and festivals; ArtsLink; cultural history and preservation; photography and productions; and a former CVB member from Elkins, W.Va. Upon Hunt’s return from the conference, the committee agreed to look at forming a CVB for Wetzel County.
The CVBs around the state are funded through the hotel/motel occupancy tax. So as not to become a competitive agency, the committee decided not to be a membership CVB, but to rely solely on the funding already in place as well as grants available from the state. The Chamber of Commerce is fronting the costs to establish the CVB even though it will be an autonomous organization. “Our hope and plan is to foster cooperation between all organizations in the county to further promote tourism which in turn fosters economic development,” says Hunt.
After notifying the City of New Martinsville of the intent to establish a CVB, Mayor Blum recommended that the committee speak with the Wetzel County Historical Society to see if the two organizations could join forces and in so doing also help man the Historical Society Museum. Both the city and the chamber receive numerous calls wanting to know the hours of the museum and it has been difficult finding enough volunteers to open the museum. Chamber President Don Riggenbach and Hunt met with the society’s Fred Wilcox and Herb Rothlisberger and outlined the proposal for the CVB. They in turn met with the rest of the Historical Society and generously agreed to let allow the CVB be housed at the museum. “We will take over the utilities but our rent will be nominal at a dollar a year, which will allow us to use a generous portion of our funds exactly where they are needed-to promote tourism,” said Hunt. The CVB initially will have no paid officers or positions and continue to be a volunteer organization for the time being.
The CVB has been incorporated and registered with the state as of Dec. 7. In the spirit of cooperation, which they hope to foster throughout the county, their by-laws include: ex-officio members representing the Wetzel County Commission; representatives from New Martinsville, Paden City, Hundred, Pine Grove, and Smithfield; as well as a representative from the Wetzel County Historical Society. As they are still in the formation stages of the CVB, those agencies (with the exception of the Historical Society) have not yet been informed of their establishment or desire to have their representatives attend the board meetings of the Wetzel County CVB, Inc.
The goal for the Chamber of Commerce board meeting on Dec. 28 was to finalize the application for their 501(c)6 status with the IRS. That action is the final step in formally establishing Wetzel County as a CVB.