County unemployment beats national average

Published 10:21 am Wednesday, January 11, 2017

According to the Virginia Employment Commission, unemployment rates in Lunenburg County were steady between 4.6 and 4.8 percent between July and October of last year which is slightly lower than U.S. unemployment rates, which hovered between 4.7 and 5.1 percent over the same period. By comparison, Virginia’s unemployment rates were between 4 and 4.1 percent during the same timeframe.

Lunenburg County could be at the cusp of a tourism boom, and that could lead to more jobs in the region.

“Going back 10 or 11 years, there was a push to promote tourism in Southside Virginia,” said Todd Fortune, community development planner at the Commonwealth Regional Council. “The region lagged behind other parts of the state as far as tourism spending, and there are a number of attractions in this region to promote.”

Fortune cited state parks, the Civil Rights in Education Heritage Trail and stops along the Lee’s Retreat route as potential tourist draws.

In addition to areas of historical significance, county officials added adventure sports like tandem skydiving in Victoria, sport shooting, regional and state competitions including youth baseball and softball, and biking along U.S. Bicycle Route 1, a cross-country route which runs from Florida to Maine, to the list of tourist draws.

According to the U.S. Travel Association, a traveler is defined as someone traveling 50 miles or more from home. Festivals in Victoria like the July National Day of the Cowboy, the annual Autumn Day and Small Town Christmas, are potential day-trips for tourists within the state.

“The county and towns are working together to promote development of new entrepreneurial businesses in the county,” says Lunenburg County Community Development Director Beverley Hawthorne. “Classes and workshops offered through the Virginia Growth Alliance and Longwood Small Business Development Center would help citizens develop a business plan for tourism-based opportunities as well as others.”

In 2015, there were 55 people employed in the tourism industry in Lunenburg County, according to U.S. Travel Association data. One area for future employment in local tourism would come from “entrepreneurial ventures with regard to the trails and the waterways,” according to Hawthorne.

Indeed there are many natural features that lend themselves to tourism, including The Meherrin and Nottoway Rivers.

According to data from the U.S. Travel Association, tourism tax receipt amounts in Lunenburg County were up slightly from 2014 to 2015, but spending and employment in the tourism sector decreased during that time period.

“We are aware of the statistics used to develop tourism models,” said Hawthorne. “Realistically, the model is not truly reflective of our particular (small) community.”

The statistical model Hawthorn refers to, the U.S. Travel Association’s Travel Economic Impact Model (TEIM), was developed to capture spending, employment, payroll and tax revenue due to domestic travel.

“The truest reflection of an increase for us would be an increase in the meals taxes,” says Hawthorne.

Though Lunenburg County does not currently have a meal tax, the towns of Kenbridge and Victoria do.

Lunenburg County is part of Virginia’s Retreat, a consortium of 12 localities that collectively promote area tourism. Those localities include Amelia, Appomattox, Brunswick, Buckingham, Charlotte, Petersburg, Dinwiddie, Halifax, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, Nottoway and Prince Edward.