Belmont County welcomes tourism
ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Belmont County has much to offer visitors, and officials are getting the word out.
Tourism Director Jackee Pugh gave a quarterly tourism report to the Belmont County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday. She said she has been working to promote the county’s “brand.”
“I was most excited to finally show them the work that we’ve done in printed pieces,” Pugh said afterward, pointing to the new 50-plus-page visitors guide that highlights area businesses, attractions and events with narrative storytelling and illustrations. “It really showcases the best of Belmont, and we’re thrilled with how it’s turned out. We print 15,000 copies that are distributed locally, regionally and across the state, and visitor guides are also requested online on our website.”
Pugh added that online requests for visitors guides are increasing. She said large-scale advertising on the state level, such as a full-page ad in Ohio’s visitors guide, may be contributing to increased interest.
“Some of the work that we’ve laid in place for a while is finally coming to fruition,” she said.
Pugh will also be speaking to the Ohio Senate in the coming weeks as legislators debate Senate Bill 4, which would increase tax credits for filming and theater productions in the state.
She said Belmont County was recently considered as a filming site for a major motion picture, but the decision was eventually made to film in Georgia due to more generous tax credits.
“The film commissioner in Columbus has asked me to speak on behalf of what that bill adding to the tax credit that film and theater productions in Ohio could do and have an economic impact on rural communities like Belmont County. If a major film were to come in and be produced here like the one we scouted for last year, that would have been a huge production,” she said, adding it would have been a boon to area service industries and workforce development since the production would likely hire local residents.
She said the bill proposes credits equal the lesser of $5 million or 25 percent of the production company’s estimated qualified expenditures likely to have a positive economic impact or workforce development impact on either the state as a whole or the community where the project is completed.
She has not been scheduled to speak to the Senate yet. She added that the bill is still being discussed in committee and will have to pass through both the Ohio House of Representatives and Senate before going to the governor’s office for approval.
“It’s very early in the stages,” she said.
Meanwhile, Pugh said there are some returning favorites among upcoming events.
“Winter’s a slower time, but we’re picking back up events with the spring coming on, and one of the ones that we are excited about is the return of the James Wright Poetry Festival. It’s April 29 in Martins Ferry, and it celebrates (the late) James Wright, who is a Pulitzer Prize writer that’s from Belmont County. That event has been on hiatus since 2018, so we’re excited,” Pugh said, adding that the event will be held at the Belmont County District Library in Martins Ferry. “They are anticipating bringing people in from all over for this event.”
She said summer and fall are typically the busiest times of the year for tourism.
Another returning event is the Rubberneck Tour, also on April 29. Pugh said it will be the 49th tour and will feature Barnesville and the surrounding area.
Pugh also reported applications have been received from local organizations and events for the annual Grant Assistance Program. She said $100,000 has been budgeted.
“We got 64 applications in, which is more than we’ve ever had, and in the coming weeks my board of directors will be reviewing all the applicants and awarding the funds by the end of March,” she said. “Getting to work with our community partners and see and learn about how they use these funds to help their events, which we then promote.”
Pugh did not have lodging tax figures, which help fund tourism activities, on hand. She said they are “looking strong,” but are still slightly behind the 2019 numbers prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s not a big gap. It’s closing, it’s gotten better, but it still is under those for the first two months of 2019,” she said. “For February 2023 compared to February 2022, we are close to double the amount, so we’re really hopeful to see that projection and hope it continues through the year.”
Pugh said her office is also in contact with Tourism Ohio for a state-level initiative aimed at encouraging people to visit the state and then possibly move to Ohio. She expects to hear more information in May.
The tourism council’s website is visitbelmontcounty.com.