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Agritourism a growth market

Roger Gonzalez of The News Virginian writes (original article):

More than $22 million was spent on agritourism in the Shenandoah Valley last year, according to a recent study, and that number could rise in the next decade.

“There is potential to grow the number of agritourism businesses, room to grow jobs and capture some more revenue,” Bonnie Riedesel, executive director of Central Shenandoah Planning District Commission, said Thursday. “We knew that there was potential for it. We just didn’t have the numbers to back it up. Now we do.”

The planning district commission announced the news at the Fields of Gold Harvest Jubilee at Barren Ridge Vineyards. The event was named for the award-winning Fields of Gold program, which involves six Valley counties and five cities. It promotes the region as an agritourism destination, whether for visits to a working farm, a winery, a corn maze or a horse farm. It also seeks to create jobs on the farm and tourism jobs off.

In 2011, 226 businesses employed 704 people in agritourism locally, noted the study, done by Richmond-based consulting firm Chmura Economics & Analytics. And including multipliers, the $22.4 million spending figure rises to $34.8 million, and the employment number to 811 jobs.

Chmura estimates that about 6.7 million visitors traveled more than 50 miles to come to the region in 2010, and that that total tourism number could grow 6.2 percent in the next 10 years.

And, given that 15 percent of potential visitors surveyed said they would be very interested in agri- or ecotourism, the study said, such sales here could expand at a rate of 9.3 percent per year.

That delighted many in the crowd at Barren Ridge.

“Agriculture is Virginia’s No.1 industry,” said Matt Lohr, commissioner of the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, keynote speaker at the event. “I think what we are seeing is that agritourism and opportunities to have more direct marketing between the producers and consumers, it really is big business. As agriculture changes, and we have more of a society that wants to be connected, it certainly gives more and more opportunities for farmers to take advantage of. It’s exciting.”

Moving forward, the plan is to take advantage of the Fields of Gold statistics and implement a plan to try to realize the potential growth. Complete results of the study will be available at the planning district commission’s website, cspdc.org, early next week.

“We have some other grants out there that are pending,” Riedesel said. “Hopefully we can begin to market and carry this program forward.”

 

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