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DNC gives Cabarrus, Gaston, Union counties economic jolt

By Joe DePriest, Adam Bell and Lukas Johnson
jdepriest@charlotteobserver.com

CHARLOTTE, N.C. Charlotte’s neighboring counties may be conservative-leaning, but they eagerly welcomed economic benefits from last week’s Democratic National Convention.

Hotel guests in Cabarrus, Gaston and Union counties included delegates, support personnel, security people and media, with some spending money at local restaurants and businesses.

“Dollar bills have no politics,” said Gaston County Commission Chairman Donnie Loftis, who is a Republican. “Green is green. They spend on both sides of the fence.”

Gaston tourism director Walt Israel estimated the DNC generated $3 million to $5 million for the county.

Even when a few hotel rooms were canceled he said DNC-connected visitors staying in outlying areas such as Statesville and Hickory “began jockeying for rooms here.”

Some DNC visitors stuck around almost two weeks. The big convention across the Catawba River “was about as prestigious event as you could get,” Israel said. “And we’re very happy with the way things went over here.”

For instance, the 85-room Hampton Inn in Belmont hosted journalists with the Washington-based National Journal, along with homeland security staff and other convention-related personnel, according to hotel general manager Carolyn Barnes.

DNC volunteers helped with the flow of guests, some of whom took an afternoon shuttle to Charlotte.

“It was a pleasant experience,” Barnes said. “I’m quite satisfied with the financial impact.”

The 107-room Hampton Inn on Remount Road in Gastonia was sold out during the convention. Guests included a Spanish-speaking television crew from Miami.

Nicole Bolt, the hotel’s director of sales, said the media crew members had breakfast there but didn’t come back until around 10 p.m. Some had rental cars, while others took shuttle buses.

“It was definitely a financial gain,” said Bolt, a board member of Gaston County Travel & Tourism. “And it was good for the economy overall.”

Gaston’s only official DNC event was at Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden – a pre-convention welcome party for delegates from Kansas, Arkansas, Missouri and West Virginia.

Garden executive director Kara Newport said that after months of planning the event “went off pretty flawlessly.”

Most guests “went through the whole garden like we hoped they would,” she said. “The event was a success, absolutely, and showcased the garden in a beautiful light.”

Off-duty law enforcement officers from Gastonia, the Gaston County Police Department, Gaston Sheriff’s Office and other Gaston County towns worked in Charlotte during the convention, as did members of other forces from around the region, state and country.

Gaston County Commissioner Tom Keigher said the federal government paid for the officers’ services “and we weren’t undermanned in Gaston during that time.”

As a next-door neighbor to Charlotte, Gaston’s biggest benefit from the DNC is getting on the map and letting “more people worldwide know about us than they did a week ago,” Keigher said.

Cabarrus County

Cabarrus County hosted about 1,000 DNC visitors from nine states and the District of Columbia, according to the Cabarrus County Convention and Visitors Center.

Local officials were pleased with the impact.

John Cox, president and CEO of Cabarrus Economic Development and the Cabarrus Regional Chamber of Commerce, said he was thrilled with the population influx, no matter what their party affiliation.

“As well as it went, they could have stayed another week as far as I’m concerned,” Cox said. “Because all the money they spent here is going to circulate through our economy, meaning more opportunity for our local businesses to do well.”

But population surges are nothing new to the area, said Cox, mentioning economic stimulators such as the county fair, which turns 60 this year, an art walk in downtown Concord on Friday and NASCAR races.

“That’s a bonus to us, and it doesn’t matter what party you are,” said Cox. “It’s not a Democrat dollar or Republican dollar, but an American dollar and that’s going to spend anywhere.”

Omar Narvaez, 33, a Texas delegate who stayed in Cabarrus County’s Great Wolf Lodge, said he didn’t realize he was in a county where the majority of residents are registered Republicans.

He said everyone treated him well, even a Republican wearing a shirt that read “Reagan/Bush ’84.” The two shared some playful jabs, as if they were cheering for certain sports teams, said Narvaez.

“You know that’s the wrong election year, right?” asked Narvaez, jokingly. They two eventually parted ways with smiles.

Union County

Union County also saw benefits from the DNC, including housing international journalists in a Monroe hotel, about 25 miles south of Time Warner Cable Arena, said Sharon Rosché, head of the Union County Chamber of Commerce.

She said some security personnel were expected to be in a hotel around Stallings near the Mecklenburg County line.

Rosché didn’t think convention-goers would spend much time in Union County restaurants, though, since most people likely would stay in Charlotte once they got there for DNC activities. But as for the hotel revenue, she said, “We’ll take any positive we can get from (the DNC.)”

Elsewhere in Union County, the Charlotte-Monroe Executive Airport in Monroe has been extremely busy this past week. Officials there reported an increase in corporate jets and fuel purchases. Most of the additional air traffic has been for folks attending the DNC.

The airport hopes the exposure will lead to more pilots and possibly corporate travelers taking advantage of its facilities. Airport officials declined to name any celebrities that passed through, but did say they had some “high-profile figures.”

DePriest: 704-868-7745
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