May has arrived, and with it, some BIG NEWS! Well over a year of planning has led us to the first major step in developing our tourism and marketing potential as a destination county in the northern half of Georgia. In case you didn’t realize it, tourism dollars are clean dollars, which people bring into the community and spend here, while having a minimum impact on costly government services. This in turn helps in tangible ways to reduce the tax burden on the citizens and businesses by stimulating the local economy. So what is the big news?

On May 24/25, we will host eight key tourism development partners from different agencies of the State of Georgia. These include both the Director and Assistant Director of Tourism and Product Development from the Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD); the Regional Project Manager for Historic Heartland (the tourism area we are located in); the Grants Program Director for the Georgia Council for the Arts; the Regional Program Manager for the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA); the Georgia Visitor Information Center Manager; a Community and Economic Development Consultant from the Georgia EMC; and a member of the National Parks Service that specializes in Heritage Site and Trails Development. Quite an A-List of tourism specialists for our community!

They will visit our key tourism sites, sample some of our best local cuisine and be exposed to the unique variety of outdoor fun activities available in Butts County, including Jackson Lake, the Ocmulgee River, Dauset Trails and Indian Springs State Park. They will look at our towns and historic places and they will hear about future plans for bike trails and connectivity of trails between Indian Springs, Dauset Trails and Jackson. They will look at great attractions such as the Village at Indian Springs and potential sites such as the Flovilla Historic Schoolhouse.

From this visit, they will write a detailed analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of each, giving us critical guidance and insights into to how we as a community can develop and enhance our offerings to make us more attractive to the widest possible target audience. Tourism dollars right now are bringing in over $650,000.00 to the local Butts County economy each year, and $45,500.00 of SPLOST dollars. This could easily be tripled or quadrupled within a few years with our community marketing efforts becoming more informed and more focused in the same direction.

We currently have at least one event center near Jenkinsburg that is staying booked all the time; another one is under construction in the same area and a third one has been approved on the grounds of the Historic Carmichael House in Jackson. A new coffee shop and a restaurant tavern will open soon in the downtown area as well.

South of Flovilla, the site has been prepared for the new Indian Springs Conference Center, the first major project investment within in the State Park in decades, as well as renovations of the cabins that serve the park. The conference center construction begins next month and should be completed in the first quarter of 2018. Weddings too have become big business in our community, especially at Indian Springs where the beautiful rock buildings inside the park and the historically restored cottages in the Village at Indian Springs have provided wedding parties with both location and lodging. Now is the perfect time for the State Tourism Product Development Team to see everything that is going on and what will come in the months ahead.

I am personally very excited to be shepherding this event, and to have such a fine group serving on our tourism board. Each of them brings so much knowledge, passion and commitment to our community and to the effort to make Butts County and all our communities the place that is truly “closer to everywhere than anywhere”. I am also very proud that we have several entities and individuals that will be providing the meals, transportation and lodging for our distinguished guests, including the City of Jackson, Butts County, Partners for Smart Growth, Dauset Trails and the Daughtry Foundation, Frankie Willis and the Village at Indian Springs and representatives of many of our local civic clubs and organizations. Each have played a key role in making this come together, and I’m looking forward to where it takes us.

Sometime later this year, the State will present their findings and recommendations to the committee and to the public, and Partners for Smart Growth will host an open meeting for anyone who is interested to come and hear what they think and what they recommend. In the meantime, let’s do everything we can to put our best foot forward and welcome them.

Have a great month!