Man, oh manufacturing. That industry has long been the backbone of the economy in Asheboro and Randolph County, and is still vital today.
But as manufacturing jobs have dwindled throughout the United States, city and county officials wanted to diversify the local economy by adding tourism to the overall mix. “Our geographic location is already good for tourism, situated halfway between Boston and Miami, as well as midway between Washington, D.C. and Atlanta,” says Bonnie Renfro, president of the Randolph County Economic Development Corp. Tourists can visit an array of attractions, including the signature North Carolina Zoo. The zoo showcases animals in natural habitats similar to what might be found in the wild.
“Attendance at the zoo remains robust, with new attractions often being introduced to keep things fresh,” says Tammy O’Kelley, director of the Randolph County Tourism Development Authority. “In 2009, an Acacia Station giraffe deck opened to allow guests to view those animals up close. It is already one of the most popular stops.” Another well-visited tourist attraction in Randolph County is the town of Seagrove, which has 100 different potters doing business there. Seagrove attracts national and international visitors who shop for one-of-a-kind pottery and ceramic items.
Meanwhile, other tourism sites include the Richard Petty Museum that features memorabilia related to NASCAR, and the North Carolina Aviation Museum, which includes airplanes and artifacts dating back to World War II. “To be perfectly honest, one of the biggest reasons why we can now grow our tourism industry is thanks to a referendum that passed in July 2008 allowing wine, beer and liquor to finally be sold in Asheboro,” O’Kelley says. She says that prior to the 2008 referendum, many visitors were surprised – and sometimes irritated – to learn that they couldn’t have a drink with their meals in Randolph County. The county wasn’t able to attract many chain restaurants and hotels because of the old ordinance.
“Since then, Fairfield Inn & Suites Asheboro has opened, along with a few restaurants,” she says. “One of those restaurants is a pizzeria called The Flying Pig, whose unusual name comes from the owners who long wanted to open a pizza parlor but refused to do so until beer could be served.
The owners said beer would be served in Asheboro ‘when pigs fly,’ and their surprise over the referendum’s passage brought about the name.” O’Kelley adds that two state-based visitor centers opened in Asheboro in January 2010 and are expected to serve a total of 500,000 visitors each year. “In addition, Asheboro is now home to Richland Creek Zip Line, which allows outdoor adventurers to ride along a half-mile cable that spans through forest land at the base of Purgatory Mountain,” she says. “Tourists are continuing to spend money in Randolph County, even during these tough economic times. We’re lucky.”