June 8, 2008

By Paul Teague, Local News Editor, News-Topic (www.newstopic.net)

Boosted by a rise in construction and tourism, Caldwell County's occupancy tax revenues have surged more than 40 percent since 2005.

And while the numbers are but a drop in the bucket when compared to county's overall tax receipts, they indicate a pocket of strength in the general business climate.

According to the Caldwell County Finance Department, occupancy tax receipts shot up from $67,142.59 in the 2004-05 fiscal year to $87,980.74.

For the current budget year that ends June 30, tax proceeds are expected to match or exceed the $95,000 that had been budgeted.

By state law, Caldwell County Financial Analyst Tony Helton said the proceeds from the 3-percent tax are distributed to the Caldwell County Chamber of Commerce to promote tourism and the Economic Development Commission to aid its marketing efforts.

“It's not one of our bigger revenues, but it helps,” Helton said. “Basically that money comes from tourists and business travelers.”

Helton added that restaurants and other commercial interests should be receiving benefits from the additional individuals staying in the county. Any additional spending should aid sales tax receipts, he said.

“I'm sure they've got to eat somewhere,” Helton said.

For EDC Senior Development Manager Alan Wood, the revenue goes a long way in improving the agency's ability to bring in new businesses. He said a portion of the money is used to support the five-county North Carolina Industrial Crescent.

The rest currently is being devoted to improving the county's presence on the Internet, along with traditional marketing activities.

“The occupancy tax is definitely an important component,” Wood said. “We are very careful and judicious with it. We're glad to see it increasing.

“We can market nationally with these funds, and we can reach outside of our community to market the county.”
Wood attributes the increase to the boom in construction within the county. The most obvious contributor likely has come from the Google project.

The Internet search and applications giant continues to build its $600 million data center in Lenoir and has had as many as 300 construction crew members at the site at one time.

In addition, the county is or has been host to the widening project on U.S. 321, the construction of two Wal-Mart SuperCenters and a rise in upscale residential developments.

And don't forget the summer car shows, art and sculpture exhibits and even the success of Appalachian State University's football team as additional driving forces that bring tourists and fans to the area.

“I think a lot of it is the construction growth that we have seen,” Wood said. “I think that is a major component. I also think the Chamber has done a great job of marketing the area for tourists.”

While Helton said revenues could begin leveling off - the county is projecting $80,000 in occupancy taxes in 2008-09 - Wood is looking at additional growth, especially along the U.S. 321 corridor.

“I suspect that it's going to do nothing but continue to improve,” Wood said. “With rising gas prices, I think people will be staying closer to home for their vacations. We'll see even more growth in the future.”

2007-08: $95,000.00 (budgeted)
2006-07: $87,980.74
2005-06: $71,244.33
2004-05: $67,142.59
2003-04: $73,292.67
2002-03: $68,128.59