Editor's Note: The version of this story that appeared in print Sept. 17 incorrectly stated that Patrick County was providing an additional $45/hr in hazard pay to its first responders. The correct value is $4-$5/hr.
The coronavirus pandemic is inspiring New River Valley locals to become “tourists in their own county,” Floyd County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director John McEnhill told the Board of Supervisors at its latest meeting. Compared to other vacation destinations, McEnhill said, rural areas are “by far a favorite” as travelers seek to avoid the high virus risk associated with densely-populated areas. Furthermore, locals who canceled long-haul trips planned for the summer and fall are finding new reason to explore tourist spots nearby.
Given these changing circumstances around regional tourism, McEnhill explained, it’s vital to maintain the Floyd Visitor Guide as a resource for visitors—although its contents may have to be reimagined and refocused. At the Sept. 8 Board of Supervisors meeting, McEnhill proposed that the guide cover the entire county, with a focus on outdoor activities and agritourism, which may be more popular given guidance to maintain physical distance.
The overriding theme of the 2020 Visitor Guide, he said, will be “how to access Floyd safely” and the guide will list which businesses offer curbside service or services by appointment and explain how they are accommodating capacity limits. McEnhill pointed out to the Supervisors that if the guide is primarily about coronavirus safety, its production costs will likely be eligible for CARES Act funding.
McEnhill said scrapping the visitor guide entirely this year wasn’t an option. Although many of Floyd’s signature events—including FloydFest and Yoga Jam—have been cancelled, meaning the county will probably require a smaller print run, visitors to Floyd still expect a physical guide to the area. “Print is important,” McEnhill said. “People demand it when they arrive in person.” Furthermore, he said, an online guide wouldn’t be practicable given the large swaths of the county where folks can’t access Wi-Fi or cell reception.
The Chamber is planning a print run of 10,000 copies of the guide, which will have 24 full-color pages. McEnhill said visitor guide content could “dovetail nicely” with the recently-launched ShopFloydVA campaign, which encourages “Floyd fans” to shop at Floyd-based businesses via a new e-commerce platform which should launch in early October.
The new visitor guide has a budget of $5,600, McEnhill said, but the Chamber anticipates that $1,750 of that cost will come from businesses that want to be featured in the publication. “We talked about what the businesses would contribute…We feel strongly that businesses have to have some buy-in to this, but it needs to be affordable,” he said. The Chamber is therefore charging $25 for a listing in the guide, and expecting at least 70 businesses to participate.
McEnhill asked the Supervisors to provide the remaining $3,900 in funding, which they approved.
Also at the Supervisors’ meeting, Floyd County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. John Wheeler offered an update on infrastructure projects at the schools. Wheeler said the district expects new heating systems to be fully installed by Oct. 5, and for the air conditioning to be installed by January. “We’re going to turn it on full blast and enjoy it,” Wheeler joked.
The Board also discussed potential uses for its millions of dollars in CARES Act funding, including hazard pay for first responders in the county. According to County Administrator Terri Morris, neighboring Patrick County recently authorized an additional $4-5/hour for its emergency medical service providers (EMS), all the way back to March. Other localities have provided one-time flat payments. “A lot of localities are providing this payment…if your job duties have changed with everything going on with COVID,” Morris explained.
To date, the county has spent $478,000 of its money, out of more than $2.6 million provided by the federal government. This does not include, however, a new ambulance recently purchased by the county, which all told will cost about $300,000. That leaves the county with more than $1.8 million to spend by December of this year.
Floyd County has already purchased PPE, upgraded technology to livestream public meetings, and more in response to COVID-19.
Near the end of the meeting, during a report from Virginia Department of Transportation representative David Clarke, Little River District Supervisor Linda DeVito Kuchenbuch raised the issue of traffic backups at the stoplight in the center of town. Kuchenbuch said the new crosswalk is useful, but that the traffic light is still not timed correctly. Due to the lack of a turn lane—for which there is no space unless the town sacrifices parking—a line of cars often stretches all the way to the Food Lion, she said.