Since September or so, I’ve been working with one of the Chapel Hill Vision 2020 theme groups; the one called Community Prosperity & Engagement.  The group has identified three goals for recommendation to Town Council.  One of these goals is:  Foster the success of local business.

Next step is for the group to develop recommended strategies for achieving each of the goals.

So….how do we go about Fostering the success of local business?

It’s been an interesting exploration.

A few weeks ago, while talking with a friend  who calls on businesses of all kinds in the Chapelboro area, I asked, “From all your visits to various businesses in town, what do you observe as their biggest need?”

His quick response, “Customers.”

I’m not sure what answer I anticipated but that one surprised me…perhaps with its simplicity. After all,  one thing all businesses MUST have to survive is customers.

And then he went on to say, “Most every place I go to is empty…not a single customer in the place.” 

And then he added, “Just a bunch of stuff in an empty store except for one bored worker sitting behind the counter reading a book or texting.”

How depressing. 

And then he said, “There just aren’t enough people in Chapel Hill to support all these businesses – good economy or not.”

So what do we do about this? Have fewer businesses?  Find more customers? 

I don’t know the answer but I continue to be intrigued and challenged by the exploration. 

My next stop is at noon tomorrow (Wednesday, Feb 22) at Town Hall where Laurie Paolicelli, Director of Orange County Visitors Center, will be making a presentation called “Tourism as a Community-Based Economic Development Strategy”.  

In a recent article, Laurie shared a few facts about the current and projected future impact of tourism on our community.   With her permission, I’ve shared that article below.  Take a look.  Lots of potential.

Yes – I’ve heard about some of the negatives of promoting tourism but I’m going in tomorrow with an open mind.  Will you join me?

If you can’t be there in person, you can watch on TV-18 or on the Town of Chapel Hill website at

The next stop after that is at 4:30 on Thursday, February 23 at Estes Hills Elementary School  during which meeting participants  be  reviewing and critiquing a variety of future development scenarios.  Sounds very interesting.  Here’s a flyer about it.  Will you join me?

If you can’t be there but want to join in future meetings, please send me your e-mail address so you can be added to the mailing list about future meetings.

Even if you can’t come to meetings though, you can still be involved by simply sharing your thoughts and ideas. 

What else might we do to foster the success of local business?  Not just retail establishments but businesses of all kinds including home-based businesses.

If you own, run or work in a business located in Chapel Hill, will you complete this survey? It’s not a long one.  Three of the questions are quick qualifiers like the location and nature of your business. The other five questions have to do with:

  • what you like about doing business in Chapel Hill?
  • what you dislike about doing business in Chapel Hill?
  • how the Town influences the success of your business?
  • what it’s like doing business with the Town?
  • what the Town could do to foster the success of your business?

Here is a link to the survey:

Feel free to forward the link to others as well.

The more we explore,  the greater our chance of making exciting discoveries.

In whatever way you can, will you join us?

I hope so.


Working to Boost Tourism

By Laurie Paolicelli, Chapel Hill-Orange County Visitors Bureau

One million.

That’s how many visitors come to Chapel Hill every year – almost seven visitors to one Orange County resident. Not all at the same time, thank goodness.

But come they do and by doing so help sustain our town, its hotels and businesses, our way of life. Tourism creates so many jobs it’s the fifth largest employer in Orange County. The credit goes primarily to the town itself, its personality, its values. UNC was recently ranked the #1 college for value in the entire country. Arts festivals, sports events, historic-related events continue to draw folks here. But it’s also the tourism business – the advertising, the outreach, the branding – that keeps them coming.

Tourism – the cleanest industry, invisible to the naked eye – offers job opportunities at every skill and wage level. Twenty cents of every dollar is spent at hotels; the rest is in our businesses, our retail shops, our restaurants.

In 2020 Chapel Hill’s hospitality industry will change. This is what the Visitors Bureau hopes it will look like with five percent annual growth:

  • 2,600 jobs (from 1,600) 

  • $44 million annual payroll (from $27 million) 

  • $235 million economic impact (from $144 million) 

  • $18.5 million in local and state tax revenues (from $11.4 million) 

  • Downtown Bed and Breakfasts 

  • Guided tours 

  • Street fairs of all kinds 

  • A vibrant downtown and destination filled with happy visitors

This is entirely possible. According to the NC Department of Commerce, Chapel Hill ranks #24 in the top 100 travel destinations in North Carolina.
Tourism currently fuels a $27 million payroll. And, unlike other sectors, tourism revenues and taxes are showing growth.

What do we need to do to maintain our share of the tourism market? Three primary goals are outlined in the Visitors Bureau’s plan of action:

  1. Market our assets. 

  2. Encourage our visitors to stay longer – just another night or two. 

  3. Show them more of Orange County is an asset. Chapel Hill’s hotels and downtown are world renowned. Carrboro’s music fest, film fest, poetry slam, music venues are world class. Hillsborough’s ranking on the National Historic Register has earned it a reputation among the historical and literary traveler.

We have to work together.
Laurie Paolicelli is director for the Chapel Hill-Orange County Visitors Bureau, a position she has held since 2005. A 25-year veteran of tourism, Laurie began her career in California, serving as VP Marketing for the Palm Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau a decade. She held the same position in Houston, the fourth largest city in the country with a tourism industry largely focused off-shore. Paolicelli has been credited with increasing visitor demand and tourism programming. Under her direction the Orange County Visitors Bureau was accredited by the Destination Marketing Association International in 2009: an accomplishment that required the bureau to meet best practices of 58 mandatory and 30 voluntary standards. Paolicelli is a Chapel Hill resident with one daughter, currently at Carrboro High School. Paolicelli studied marketing at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee and is a certified Destination Management Association Professional.