OAK HILL — Editor’s note: Following is the first in a series of three articles about the economic impact the Boy Scouts of America will have on the area with the establishment of a permanent home for the BSA Jamboree and a high adventure base at Summit Bechtel Reserve in Mount Hope.
Specifics will only come with time, but the broad strokes of how the Boy Scouts of America’s Summit Bechtel Reserve will impact the economy of the surrounding region have already been mapped out.
The New River Gorge Regional Development Authority (NRGRDA) works on new business recruitment and existing business support, providing funding and advice to entrepreneurs in Fayette, Nicholas, Summers and Raleigh counties.
The office, in consultation with the BSA, believes the Summit’s economic impact will take three forms.
First, there’s the Jamboree piece of the puzzle. Although the BSA has been around for over 100 years, a permanent home for their Jamboree is something new. Since 1981, they’ve held the event at a military base, Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia. The arrangement required them to build and tear down all their infrastructure every four years.
The Summit, on the other hand, represents a long-term investment for the Scouts. Permanent buildings can be built. Signage can be branded. Lakes can be created.
Construction of the facility has so far produced an economic impact of $50 million in wages and materials, according to the governor’s office. The 1,000 workers at the Summit have earned $34.5 million, and $16 million in materials has been purchased in West Virginia. The governor says $9 million of this has been from vendors in Fayette, Raleigh and Nicholas counties.
Then there’s the effect of a large influx of visitors for 10 days every four years, which will provide a welcome economic boost, but will stretch the area’s capacity. For certain kinds of local businesses, this will take the shape of an infrequent, one-month bump in revenues.
“No matter how small or large the impact might be, it’s not going to happen very often,” says NRGRDA director Judy Radford of the Jamboree.
So far, hotels are the only ones feeling that effect this far out from the event.
The Holiday Lodge in Oak Hill is the closest hotel to the Summit’s Glen Jean entrance. General Manager Brandon Cook says the lodge was over 90 percent full for most of July, but that’s the only month affected so far.
“Typically, July is our best month anyway. So we’re usually full most weekends in July, but we seem to be a little busier during the week,” he says.
Unsure of exactly what to expect when the event rolls around, Cook says the hotel is using its experience hosting visitors for Bridge Day as a guide for how to adequately staff and plan for the Jamboree.
Jerry Smith, general manager of Country Inn and Suites in Beckley, says his hotel is seeing a lot of business for the two weeks before the event, and one week after, from vendors, BSA employees, and other workers associated with putting on the Jamboree. Between 60 and 80 tour bus drivers, for example, will be staying at the hotel at any given time as they run shuttles to pick up troops of Scouts from Washington, D.C.
The hotel’s 156 rooms are also around 90 percent full in July.
“We’re in a pretty good position to completely fill up. ... What hurts us is we have The Greenbrier Classic (during the first week in July) and we’re sold out completely for that, so I couldn’t take all the vendors in,” he says. The July 4 weekend is already one of the busiest of the year.
“It’s a perfect storm for the hotels. July will be, without a question, probably one of the busier months these hotels along this exit have ever seen. We anticipate selling every room out for the entire month, which will be a first for us.”
Smith says he does worry, however, about displacing his existing clients and not having anywhere close by to send them. He wishes the events were more spread out, that so much demand being shoved on one month is a challenge.
The second component of the Summit, which has the potential to spread demand out in a more sustainable way, is the construction of a high adventure base — an outdoor recreation facility that will provide wilderness programs and training during the summer to thousands of Scouts.
“The big piece where they are expecting the most growth over time is with the high adventure base,” says Radford.
The BSA’s other bases are on the perimeter of the country, but the Summit is the only one plunked in the middle of the East Coast, which could draw more people within driving distance.
“So here, when the kids are coming for their high adventure experience, mom and dad might bring them and drop them off and then they’ll be looking for a way to spend their week while their kids are at camp. So that’s a better opportunity than the Jamboree to capture those visitors for a week and have them spend money in the region,” says Radford.
This potential might be greater in the case of the high adventure base than the Jamboree. Smith notes that the rooms he’s selling for next July aren’t going to parents of Scouts, and he and others disavow the notion that parents will make up a large visitor base during the Jamboree.
The third piece of the Summit pie, which Radford says is still “fuzzy” at this point, is the potential for Scouts to bring business to southern West Virginia later in life.
“Scouts become powerful businessmen, admirals and CEOs of corporations. We think over time we’re going to see businesses locating here as a result of the kids coming here, having a good experience and realizing there really is a state called West Virginia. So we think we will see growth from that,” says Radford.
So far, Radford says the thrust of her office’s work has been to prepare communities a little better to host BSA guests, whether through community cleanups or replacement of sidewalks. She cites a tire collection effort that yielded 17,000 tires, and tons of garbage that have been removed from communities.
The office has also developed a beautification toolkit that suggests low-cost ways to spiff up a town and make it more welcoming. The toolkit is available on the NRGRDA’s website: http://www.nrgrda.org/.
Looking ahead, Radford expects that her office will be assisting local entrepreneurs who form businesses based on the anticipated economic growth in the area.
“As we go along and see gaps, that will be an opportunity for people to expand or start a business. When they do that, we have loan programs and business coaches who can work with them to make sure they get it set up right to keep the number of businesses that fail down,” she says.
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