Chamber Chat - Sanford Welcome Center

Sep 03

By Meg Moss


It’s open! Sanford’s first Welcome Center opened its doors this past Thursday at a Ribbon Cutting where attendees heard from enthusiastic supporters of a Visitor Services program in Sanford-Lee County. Sanford Mayor Chet Mann is delighted that we now have a place to showcase all Sanford-Lee County has to offer. The Ribbon Cutting was followed by a reception just down Chatham Street at Libations, downtown Sanford’s local purveyor of fine wine and craft beer.

Surrounding communities have Welcome Centers, and now our community is able to offer this street-front location that is easily accessible to locals and visitors. Places like Temple Theater and the Shops of Steele Street can now send out of towners to our Welcome Center to get more information on other things to do in Lee County. Patrons to the Shops of Steele Street often ask about local options for dining and shopping, and now they can send them to get lots of information about businesses and other tourist interests, such as San-Lee Park, Endor Paddle Kayaking or Deep River Sporting Clays.

The Welcome Center, located at 115 Chatham Street, is in the Buggy Factory, which was developed as a one-stop shop for businesses. The Welcome Center will be able help direct business owners throughout the building, as well as people needing building permits or the inspections department.

The front door of the Buggy Factory now has signage for Chamber of Commerce, Economic Development, Visitor Services, Progressive Contracting Company, Inc., Downtown Sanford, Inc., and Sanford/Lee County Planning and Development Department.

SAGA is partnering with Visit North Carolina (VisitNC), a unit of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, which is the public-private organization that manages the task of marketing North Carolina as a visitor destination. Their mission is to unify and lead the state in positioning North Carolina as a preferred destination for travelers and film production and in maximizing economic vitality statewide. By partnering with VisitNC, we are able to highlight Sanford-Lee County destinations, activities and special events to people outside of the county. The VisitNC website states that they have two objectives: to increase awareness of North Carolina as an inspiring, desirable visitor destination; and to drive and grow traveler interest in North Carolina destinations for more frequent, higher spending, and longer trips.

VisitNC also evaluates the economic impact of travel and tourism in North Carolina. On an annual basis, the Research Department of the US Travel Association prepares direct visitor spending estimates for all 100 counties in North Carolina. From 2015 to 2016, Lee County had an increase of 5.04% in spending from visitors. The state increase over the same time period was 4.11%. Our goal is to increase visitor’s spending again this year.  After years of anticipation, we now have an occupancy tax to support visitors and tourism and we should only see the economic impact grow.

According to VisitNc, in 2016, sixty-eight percent of North Carolina visitors traveled to North Carolina’s Piedmont Region. For marketing purposes, the Piedmont Region is made up of the 49 most central counties of North Carolina. Eighty-five percent of all domestic visitors (87 percent of overnighters) came to the Piedmont Region for pleasure purposes, while twelve percent of all visitors came to conduct business, including meetings and conventions.

The Ribbon Cutting at our Welcome Center hosted a diverse group of citizens excited about the opening of the Welcome Center, to include state and local elected officials, small business owners, and members of the art community.

With a Visitor Services program in place, including the new Welcome Center, Sanford-Lee County is positioned to drive visitor spending to our local hotels, restaurants, shops, and tourist destinations. 

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