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Burke County
Community Profile
February 2005

At Home

Burke County finds new economic strength in tourism and retirement while enhancing its storied quality of life.

By Sharon McBrayer

It took a team of overachieving Little Leaguers to finally convince Burke County that it, too, could compete in the major leagues of tourism and economic development.

All-Star Chris Fine slides into home during a Little League World Series game in Williamsport, Pa.

A major expansion of Lake James State Park should make the popular resort even more attractive to tourists.

Learn more:
Valdese relives its storied past
Economic magic flows from Lake James

Links to important Burke County sites
Nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Burke County for generations was known for its many state installations, including Broughton Hospital, the N.C. School for the Deaf and the J. Iverson Riddle Development Center. The region around Morganton, the county seat, also was heavily dependent on manufacturing, particularly furniture. But with the recent decline in the furniture and textile industries and cutbacks in state government payrolls, which pushed the area’s jobless level over 6 percent, Burke County leaders saw the need for a new economic model.

Those plans were beginning to take shape last summer when Morganton’s all-star Little League team inspired Burke County to see itself in a new light. The underdogs won the state tournament, then pulled off a series of surprise victories to win the Southeast Region championship and advance to the national tournament, which was televised on ESPN.

The team made a spirited run through the tournament and reached the national semifinals before being ousted by a powerful Texas team. Returning home, the boys were greeted as heroes and treated to a parade in their honor. Their achievement was ranked by the Charlotte Observer as among the top 10 regional stories of 2004.

Burke County officials previously had discussed ways to transition the local economy from manufacturing and state jobs into one powered by tourism, retirement and quality of life. The Little League team’s success focused their thinking and led to creation of the Catawba Meadows sports complex plan, which boasts four baseball fields and many amenities. Other plans gelled, including a new state park on Lake James and a “fresco trail.”

“Burke County has all the assets necessary to become a major economic development driver,” says Mike Fulenwider, a business owner, member of the Burke Partnership for Economic Development, one of Gov. Mike Easley’s appointees to the state’s economic development board in 2001 and a member of NCCBI’s board.

“Although we have experienced manufacturing job losses and the resulting economic challenges, we are replacing them with other jobs, creating opportunities that will sustain our economy in the future,” he says.

One group set to play a major role in the county’s economic future is the Burke Partnership for Economic Development, commonly referred to as BPED. It is a non-profit group made up of two dozen members from the public and private sector. It promotes Burke County to foster its economic development opportunities. Jeff Morse, a BPED member and manager for the town of Valdese, says, “We’re looking at a balanced approach. We’re branching out in a more diversified, expanded base, no longer just depending on our manufacturing base for our sole survival.”

Burke County’s strongest economic base has long been the state of North Carolina, which operates Broughton Hospital, the North Carolina School for the Deaf, the J. Iverson Riddle Developmental Center, Western Piedmont Community College (WPCC), prisons, and funds much of the public school system.

The county also had a strong furniture and manufacturing industry for many years. It was not uncommon for generations of families to go to work at a company and remain there until they retired. However, in a need to remain competitive, some of the oldest companies left the area in favor of lower-paid workers overseas, leaving many in Burke County wondering how those jobs could ever be replaced.

Finding those replacement jobs has been a challenge for area leaders and has caused many to rethink their ideas about economic development. Many economic and community leaders are starting to understand the need to retool Burke’s economic base and diversify its industry in order to bring more jobs to the area.

“The economic future of Burke County is changing, and it will never be like it was,” Fulenwider points out.

Expanding Healthcare Services

With the baby-boomer generation ready to retire and people living longer, the need for quality health care in a community is a top priority. Blue Ridge HealthCare operates both Grace and Valdese hospitals, as well as a number of nursing homes, in Burke County. Blue Ridge employs between 1,500 and 1,700 people. Blue Ridge officials recently announced plans for a $100 million expansion and renovations of its facilities and services over the next five to seven years.

“We’re trying to build something that will take us through the 21st Century,” says Jerry Davis, vice president of marketing and public relations for Blue Ridge HealthCare.

The plans for expansion call for an additional 100,000 square feet ­— 53,000 at Valdese and 46,000 at Grace — which includes new outpatient centers, new diagnostic and treatment areas, extensive renovations to existing buildings and new technology. New surgery suites at Valdese Hospital also are planned, as well as additional parking at both campuses. One of the unique features of the cancer center will be a healing garden for chemotherapy patients. In the planning stages are an expanded emergency room, with two new treatment rooms, a dedicated waiting room and a triage room. The 46,000 square feet of new construction at Grace Hospital include a cardiac cath lab, a women’s center and a special care nursery.

These projects will be the largest since the construction of either hospital, say hospital representatives.

Davis says Blue Ridge, in addition to the construction and renovations, is working on recruiting physicians and specialists. The recruitment will have an economic ripple effect, Davis says, with those doctors needing office staff, supplies and other services. Burke County Chamber of Commerce President Mike Jackson says the expansion goes along well with what community leaders are trying to do in attracting retirees to the area.

“One of the major things people are looking for when they retire is what healthcare facilities can serve their needs,” Jackson says.

Renovations have started and major construction is expected early this year.

“In many respects, this is the culmination of what we have been working toward since the formation of Blue Ridge HealthCare in 1999 — a system that can truly take care of the vast majority of our community’s health care needs here at home in facilities that are second to none,” says Jim Hatley, board chairman of Blue Ridge HealthCare. “This is a milestone everyone can celebrate.”

Hospital officials say the work at Blue Ridge will have a $250 million impact on the local economy over the next five years from additional jobs and patients. “Redeveloping our facilities and creating hallmark services will have not only a major impact on healthcare but on the local economy well into the future,” says Kenneth W. Wood, president and CEO of Blue Ridge HealthCare.

College Options Grow

With the expansion of Blue Ridge HealthCare, as well as meeting the needs of Broughton Hospital and the J. Iverson Riddle Institute, recent discussions have turned toward building a four-year education center on the campus of WPCC. The plan is to build the center and lease it out to universities that grant four-year degrees in the health and science fields.

“This higher education center will bring so much to Burke County,” says Jim Richardson, president of WPCC. Many residents in the county who want to go back to get a four-year education will be able to do that once the center is built, he says.

Four major Western North Carolina schools — Appalachian State University, Western Carolina University, Lees McRae College and Gardner Webb University — already maintain satellite facilities in Burke County offering four-year degrees in education, business, social work and criminal justice.

Those in the healthcare industry say the center would help alleviate a shortage of healthcare workers in the county. Currently, WPCC has room for 70 nursing students each year with more than 600 people on the waiting list for the nursing program, says John Branstrom, a committee member working to make the center a reality.

State Representatives Walt Church (D-Burke) and Mitch Gillespie (R-McDowell) say they support the project and have promised to do what they can to to get state funding for the center during this year’s General Assembly session. The center still is in the early stages of discussion, but the chancellor of Western Carolina University, John Bardo, visited WPCC last November, along with other university officials, and was enthusiastic about the project. Bardo says his university also would be interested in using the center.

“What we’re talking about here is creating an allied health hub in Burke County,” Bardo told a group of community and state leaders.

Officials believe the center will not only train much-needed skilled workers, but also help bring money into the local economy by way of students coming to the county. “It’s a win-win situation, primarily for students,” Richardson says.

Two New High Schools

There once was a time in Burke County when a high school diploma wasn’t necessary in order to get a job that would provide for a family. Now, with the changing economy, a high school diploma is a minimum requirement.

In recent years, the two high schools in Burke County — Freedom High School and East Burke — have become overcrowded, causing school officials to realize the need for additional facilities. Currently, there are about 14,500 students in Burke County schools, with about 4,200 students housed in the high schools. School officials say the overcrowding situation at the existing schools stifles education and raises safety concerns.

“The other issue is the importance of building relationships,” says David Burleson, superintendent of Burke County Public Schools. Burleson explains that when schools are overcrowded it is difficult for students to become involved and build relationships

“When you read all of the literature out there, smaller schools benefit students,” Burleson says.

After a bond referendum failed in 2002, school officials asked the Burke County Board of Commissioners to agree to a certificate of participation to help fund $40 million for two new high schools in the county. The measure, which allows for the county to sell bonds without voter approval and pay for them with monies earmarked for school capital improvements, was passed and the funding is underway.

While East Burke and Freedom high schools were designed with open classroom architecture, the new high schools will be built as traditional schools with closed classrooms and hallways. Currently, the search is on for land for the two high schools. School officials have set their sights on property between Valdese and Rutherford College; the second school site will be in the Morganton area of the county. Each school will have a core capacity of 1,200 students. The layout and design will be an expanded version of a middle school built in the county and opened in 2003.

In addition to providing a safer environment and better educational opportunities for students, Burleson says the new high schools will allow the school system to provide room for community and adult training programs.

Promoting Tourism

Leaders in Burke County looking to diversify the local economic base realized they needed to open a few doors outside the county. So, the push is on to attract more tourists and their dollars to Burke County.

Burke County has a tremendous abundance of natural beauty, with scenic areas such as Lake James, the Linville Gorge, Linville Falls, South Mountains State Park, Table Rock, Shortoff Mountain and the fabled Brown Mountain lights.

In addition to the scenic attractions, the county is chock-full of historic places and things to do, as well as other attractions. Morganton boasts the Old Burke County Courthouse, built in 1837, which served as the early site for the North Carolina Supreme Court’s summer session. Morganton also is the hometown of legendary Sen. Sam Ervin, who led the Senate Watergate hearings investigating President Richard M. Nixon and his administration in the early 1970s. Ervin’s legacy and accomplishments draw tourists to the area; his house remains in Morganton and his home library is replicated at WPCC. The library houses many of Ervin’s Watergate documents, professional and family memorabilia, political cartoons, awards and other materials.

One of the most recent tourist attractions in Burke County is the fresco on the ceiling of the City of Morganton Municipal Auditorium. The CoMMA fresco, titled “The Muses,” was a two-year project of community fund-raising leading to the work by renowned fresco artist Ben Long. Rosemary Niewold, director of Burke County Travel & Tourism, says, “I’m contacting all of the towns that have frescos — about nine — to start meetings to combine efforts to get a fresco trail. These frescos are attracting over 100,000 people a year.” Creating a fresco trail will attract many people to Morganton, she says.

Mickie Vacca, director of Historic Burke Foundation, says an effort is under way to form a regional strategy to benefit conservation of cultural, historical and natural resources through economic development. “The strategy will benefit heritage tourism, which will have a ripple effect,” says Vacca. She says hotels, restaurants and local businesses will reap rewards from tourists coming to the area. Vacca notes that Burke County is the 24th “National Heritage” area designated by the U.S. Congress.

“So this is going to have far-reaching implications,” Vacca says. Thematic trails, such as the fresco trail, are efforts to take a broader, regional view of tourism. “We’re stronger together than we are apart,” Vacca says.

The town of Valdese, the second largest in Burke County, offers tourists the outdoor drama “From This Day Forward,” the story of the Waldensians who escape from religious persecution in the Cottain Alps of Italy to religious freedom in the United States. The Waldensians founded Valdese in 1893. The Trail of Faith, located at 401 Church St., tells the story of the people through a replica of original houses and structures in the Alps.

The Waldensian Heritage Winery and the Waldensian Museum also provide visitors a glimpse into the lives and traditions of the religious sect. The town is so committed to attracting tourists that it revamped its efforts including a new full-time tourism director hired recently. Niewold says the county gets about 27,000 tourists a year now. Attracting more tourists is always a goal.

“If you really look at the big picture, what don’t we have?” Niewold says.

Finding Little League Fame

The summer of 2004 in Burke County will always be remembered as the summer when a rag-tag Little League baseball team captured the hearts of the people of the state and beyond when it won a place at the Little League World Series. Few teams that played the Morganton all-stars believed the 11- and 12-year olds were much of a challenge. But team after team fell to the local all-stars as they won the Little League Southeast title. In Williamsport, Pa., for World Series play, the team did not win the whole shebang, but it did go on to become one of the top eight teams in the world in 2004.

After floating on a natural high from the experience, leaders in Morganton wanted to capitalize on the event in order to bring a baseball complex to the area. The Catawba Meadows sports complex will include five Little League baseball fields, including restrooms, concession stands, team meeting rooms, parking, lighting and scoreboards. The complex will have four softball fields and four American Legion fields, primitive camp sites, an RV area, rental cabins, disc golf and mountain bike courses.

Getting people to come play on the fields should not be a problem, says Gary Leonhardt, director of parks and recreation for the city of Morganton. “There’s no doubt the weekend tournaments are going to be the biggest draw to these fields,” he says. Leonhardt believes the fields could attract tournaments from March to October. When the fields are complete, Leonhardt expects the complex to host between 12 and 15 tournaments a year, but people shouldn’t expect Morganton will get all of the tournaments.

“I think everybody has to understand there’s a lot of competition for these tournaments,” Leonhardt says. “We hope to get our share of good tournaments here.” Leonhardt says the Little League Organization has promised the city a state tournament in the next several years.

The concept of the baseball complex began about four years ago, Leonhardt says, when city officials saw there was a need in Western North Carolina for a recreational complex such as Catawba Meadows. Chamber President Mike Jackson says the complex will bring in sales tax revenue from shops, restaurants, convenience stores and hotels frequented by visitors. The park won’t just attract players and coaches, “the Catawba Meadows would also bring in more families,” says Jackson.

The challenge with the project has been how to finance it. Initially the city of Morganton sought grants with local matches to build the complex in phases. Now with the enthusiasm over the Morganton all-stars, the effort to raise funds privately is on the move. In addition to grants, the city and Atlantic Coast Athletic Promotions joined forces to create a public/private partnership to generate money to build the complex.

If the city depended on grants and city matches, says Lee Anderson, director of development and design services for the city of Morganton, completing the complex would take about 10 years. With a partnership where private money can be used to raise the needed money, the complex could be completed as soon as three years. Randall Wilson, owner of Atlantic Coast Athletic Promotions based in Morganton, and his company have united with the city to raise money by selling advertising to private corporations and individuals — bronze and platinum sponsorships, which cost from $500 to $50,000.

Once the park is complete, officials believe it will attract nearly 400,000 people a year to the area. Hotels may expect an increase of $3 million in revenue, and employ about 40 additional people. It will be an economic boom for Burke and surrounding counties, officials say.

Industrial Park Plans Advance

For years, Burke County has lacked a multi-building industrial park. Many economic leaders in the county say that to compete with counties in the region, Burke County cannot afford to wait any longer. So, economic development officials came up with a plan for a package of facilities that will include an industrial park, an emergency services training complex and a multi-purpose covered pavilion. They anticipate it could provide economic recovery for the county to the tune of 800 new jobs and $80 million in tax revenue.

The Burke County Board of Commissioners passed a $5.8 million funding package last year contingent upon the final agreements being worked out. “The chamber supported all three parts of the stimulus package,” Mike Jackson says.

The industrial park will encompass 83 acres and include sewer, water and roads, as well as a 100,000-square-foot spec site. Officials estimate the park’s construction cost at $3.3 million. The spec site, a shell building waiting to be outfitted, will allow interested companies to move in quickly, Jackson says. “Companies are not willing to wait for these things to be put together,” he adds.

Because county, city and town officials realize the need to work together to bring new jobs to the area, all agreed to kick in money to fund the industrial park. The emergency services training complex will be built and maintained by WPCC and will use state of the art equipment to train police and firefighters from the county, state and across the country.

Although the details of the facility and what it will include have not been worked out, possibilities include a multi-story burn building, firing range, driving track, drill tower, railway rescue, drafting pits, confined space rescue and an ATV course. The construction cost of the facility is about $3 million, with the county contributing a $1 million match. The multi-purpose pavilion will offer training and educational opportunities, also through WPCC, for environmental science studies, and will allow the college to add new degrees and certifications.

The pavilion could be used on weekends for everything from dog and horse shows to family reunions and concerts. It is estimated it would attract about 60,000 people a year, which would help boost the revenues of local hotels, shops, restaurants and tourist attractions. “The nice thing about that would be that they stay in the local area for several days,” Jackson says about those attending a function at the pavilion.

The construction cost of the pavilion to the county would be $1.5 million, and proponents say the facility would be self-supporting. It would be constructed on land owned by the college and use existing buildings. College President Jim Richardson says the incentive package is a benefit for the entire county. “You have to spend money to make money,” Richardson says. “If we don’t spend money on these projects you’re going to stay stagnant.”

Richardson says the emergency services training facility and the covered pavilion fit in with the college’s mission of diverse educational opportunities to develop the county’s labor pool and raise the region’s profile as an economic leader. “It’s providing this county and community with options,” Richardson says.

Retirement a Natural

With beautiful views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the clear waters of Lake James and the close proximity to urban areas, Burke County seems a fit for those looking for a place to retire. The push is on to attract those retirees. John Cantrell, a member of a committee working to promote the county as good place to retire, says the effort started in early 2003.

“I give Mike Jackson his due,” says Cantrell, who also is a Morganton City Councilman. “He’s been very helpful.”

Cantrell says when the group got together the first question asked was what do counties with a big retirement population have that Burke County doesn’t have. After taking an inventory of the things Burke County can offer retirees, Cantrell says, “It surprised all of us.”

Cantrell says the natural sites of Lake James, Linville Gorge, Linville Falls, Table Rock and the South Mountains, as well as amenities such as golfing and the Catawba River Greenway and other tourist spots, makes the group believe the county is the perfect spot for retirees.

“We’ve got a great inventory,” Cantrell says.

The group met early on in the process with several marketing firms about doing some work for them, but the group had no money, Cantrell says. So the committee met with officials of a state retirement magazine to ask them if the county could be one of the featured inserts in the publication.

The magazine agreed, but said it would cost $18,000 for the committee to buy 10,000 additional inserts, which would be handed out at the Burke County Chamber of Commerce, the local travel and tourism office and banks.

Cantrell, who also is a member of the Morganton City Council, asked the city of Morganton as well as the county and other municipalities, to kick in money for the publications. Most of the entities liked the idea and agreed to provide the needed capital. “It’s provided us stimulus and it’s brought together the communities,” Cantrell says. “This has been a vehicle for some cooperation.”

And the effort has paid off, Cantrell believes. He says he knows people who have relocated and bought homes in the county as a direct result of the publication. Several communities catering to retirees have sprung up or are being planned, he says. “There are other things that are in the works,” Cantrell says.

The newest effort to attract retirees is a brochure featuring the county and its towns. In addition, Cantrell says the committee wants to have DVDs created telling people about the retirement opportunities. Those discs, Cantrell hopes, will be inserted into the back of the brochures. The group also wants to buy small DVD players to put in places where visitors may gather.

Cantrell says one of the challenges of the group is making sure it doesn’t duplicate any efforts going on throughout the county. “There’s still some molding that needs to be done,” Cantrell says. But he adds, “It’s been a good cooperative effort.”

With leaders in Burke County who are willing to think outside the box and consider non-traditional business opportunities, the county’s unemployment rate may reach an all-time low within the next five years.

Not only will the planned projects create new jobs for the nearly 90,000 residents of the county, bring in additional tax revenue and boost the local economy, but many of the things planned will create an even better quality of life for county residents.

From state-of-the-art health care facilities, to safer, less crowded schools, the county is poised to not only attract retirees, but also industry officials looking to locate a business. And with a new baseball complex, the city of Morganton is expected to become a player in the competitive youth baseball and softball world.

The county also is expected to attract those looking to train in the emergency services field at the emergency training facility, as well as attract horse and dog shows and other events at the covered pavilion.

Burke County’s multi-cultural, diverse population working together to bring about positive changes will make it a destination for those wanting a great place to live, work and play.

The words of football great Vince Lombardi could not only apply to a person, but a county looking to grow, when he said, “A man can be as great as he wants to be. If you believe in yourself and have the courage, the determination, the dedication, the competitive drive and if you are willing to sacrifice the little things in life and pay the price for the things that are worthwhile, it can be done.”

Valdese Relives Its Epic History

Throughout our nation’s history, groups have come here seeking religious freedom, but few have made telling their story such an integral part of their culture as the Waldensians.

The town of Valdese, the second largest in Burke County, was founded by the Waldensians, a pre-Reformation Christian sect from the Cottain Alps of Italy that traces its heritage to the 12th Century. Following centuries of religious persecution and finally a period of peace, the Waldensians immigrated to Burke County in May 1893 searching for freedom and room to grow.

There were many hardships that first winter, but the group of 10 founding families saw their prospects improve after they abandoned farming in favor of saw mills and other manufacturing ventures. The town eventually became a flourishing Waldensian industrial village. Many original Waldensian structures, such as the first school made of rock and the Waldensian Presbyterian Church, still remain, and many of the streets have Italian and French names.

Every year their story is retold by the Old Colony Players in the outdoor drama “From This Day Forward.” The drama is the fourth-oldest outdoor drama in the nation. “One of the things Valdese has always been known for is its history,” says Jeff Morse, town manager of Valdese. “It reminds us of our past and helps us look toward our future. The play has that kind of meaning.”

Morse says the town of about 4,500 residents attracts tourists to the area who are interested in the story of the Waldensians. In addition to the drama, the Trail of Faith, which is located on Church Street in Valdese next to the outdoor amphitheater, also tells the story of the Waldensians.

The Old Colony Players formed in 1935 to provide plays for the Valdese PTA. Knowlin Benfield, general manager of the Old Colony Players, says the group disbanded during World War II because of a lack of participants. The Players, however, reformed in 1967. One year later, during the town’s 75th anniversary, the group performed “From This Day Forward,” written by Fred Cranford, for the first time.

“We have people who have been in the drama for 26, 27 years,” Benfield says. Some working on the drama have been involved with it since they were toddlers. Being involved with the drama has become a family tradition for many, he says. “It’s a real family thing. It took me a long time to see this. All kinds of families are in our shows, and they cross all economic barriers.”

Benfield says he is impressed that the cast ranges in age from infants to the elderly and each is proud about their involvement. “It’s a real sense of ownership for the town,” Benfield said. “Being Waldensian is a real source of pride.”

In addition to its signature production, the Old Colony Players do shows throughout the year, as well as dinner theater productions. “Our attendance has been going up considerably with a lot of audience satisfaction,” Benfield says.

For more information about the Old Colony Players, call 828-874-0176. — Sharon McBrayer

Economic Magic Flows from Lake James

In the words of philosopher and naturalist Loren Eiseley, “If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.”

The magic for Burke County is in its water, and its water is in Lake James.

Named for Duke Power founder James B. Duke, Lake James was created in 1916 and has a surface area of more than 6,800 acres, with 150 miles of shoreline stretching between Burke and McDowell counties. It is the first of several man-made lakes along the Catawba River. The Charlotte-based utility still owns Lake James, and its real estate arm, Crescent Resources, manages the land surrounding it.

A state park was created along one side of Lake James in 1987, but at 605 acres it was one of the smallest of the 33 parks in the state. Last summer, though, the General Assembly adopted legislation that will expand the park by 2,915 acres. The area lies along the lake’s north side where the Linville River joins the Catawba River. With nearly 24 miles of lake frontage, the tract offers stunning views of Linville Gorge, Shortoff Mountain and other peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains..

The push for the expansion came out of the widely shared view that the lake and the pristine land surrounding it needed greater protection. Crescent Resources consulted with several environmental groups, mainly the Foothills Conservancy. In 2004, the parties involved came up with a way to protect the water and allow more access to the public, as well as provide a way for Crescent to develop other areas around the lake. The Burke County Board of Commissioners passed ordinances protecting the water and the views around the lake

In April 2004 Crescent unveiled plans to develop less environmentally sensitive areas around the lake. Plans call for 1,568 homes, a lodge, 100 cabins and commercial buildings.

The other half of the plan fell into place in August when the General Assembly passed its bill authorizing the issuance of $20 million in certificates of participation to expand the park nearly six fold.

When the bill was passed it received rave reviews from environmentalists as well as local and state leaders. Dan Kuehnert, a Burke County attorney who helped work out the agreement with Crescent, says he believes the lake and the park will be a draw for industries that want to locate in an area with qualities the county offers.

“As a county we’re really blessed to have these natural resources with a really good plan to use them,” Kuehnert says.

Kuehnert notes that working out the agreement was a unique process between local government, industry, residents and even the media in Burke County.  “And it crosses political and socio-economic lines,” Kuehnert said.

State Rep. Walter Church (D-Burke) says it couldn’t have happened without bipartisanship. “There’s no doubt about it that this is the greatest thing that has happened in Burke County in my lifetime,” Church says. “It’s just really unbelievable that we could pull off anything like this. It’s unusual that everybody could agree.”

The expansion will provide more public access to the lake. It will boast a lodge site, rental cabins, camping, trails, pocket parks and trail destinations. The park will have day visitation at settlement areas and could be a potential site for the interpretive center for the Overmountain Victory Trail.

Crescent officials have outlined a trail system that will establish links to the Linville Gorge, Blue Ridge Mountains, a national forest and wilderness lands, the Mountain to the Sea Trail, as well as the Upper Catawba River Canoe Trail and the Overmountain Victory Trail.

Officials say the park will help support a tourism based economy, as well as more business opportunities in the area. An economic impact study conducted by Dr. Michael L. Walden, a professor of economics at North Carolina State University, projects the county will realize nearly $2 million in additional tax revenue every year due to the development.

Walden says officials in many rural areas that have lost traditional manufacturing jobs have been looking at ways to boost their economy and create work. He says Burke County has found a way to capitalize on its natural resources and to do just that. “I think this is an economic development that other rural areas can look at,” Walden says.

The study says that 2,441 jobs should be created in the construction industry alone during the building phases of development. Walden warned, however, that the construction jobs are not permanent. During that building phase, the additional income generated is expected to be more than $211 million.

Walden said the additional tax revenue is expected to climb to more than $4 million during the construction phase due to emerging property values around the lake. But once the construction is complete, lots have been sold, retail shops have been completed and the lodge has been filled, the money added to the local economy will continue, the study says.

It says the development will add 2,429 permanent jobs generating $89 million in income for the county.

 “The economically sensitive development of Lake James by Crescent Resources, in conjunction with the creation of a 3,000-acre state park, will fuel large investments in real estate and the need for new services to accommodate the needs of tourists and retirees,” says Mike Fulenwider, a member of the state and Burke County economic development committees. — Sharon McBrayer

Learn More About  Burke County

Blue Ridge Healthcare

Chamber of Commerce

City of Morganton

County government

School system

Travel and tourism commission

Western Piedmont Comm. Coll.


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