A year after Florence: New Bern’s resurgent prosperity

(September 10, 2019)
A year after Hurricane Florence barreled through in mid-September 2018, New Bern and Craven County have once again proven resiliency in the face of catastrophe.
Craven County Manager Jack Veit said Craven County has led the state in federal disaster declarations since 1953, with 22 declarations. Hurricane Florence was the latest, although Craven County had a near-brush with another disaster in early September 2019 with Hurricane Dorian.
“To have that many means we’re doing something right,” Veit said. “As soon as the wind dies down, we’re out putting things back together.”
From July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019, Greater Downtown New Bern, a major center for tourism, meetings, and conventions, recorded the following statistics:

  • New businesses opened: 11
  • Out of 209 commercial spaces in Greater Downtown, 26 were vacant as of June 30
  • Total private/public investment in Greater Downtown was $5,771,279
  • Building rehabs completed: 36
  • Full-time jobs created: 76
  • Part-time jobs created: 61

These numbers contrast with others that are directly related to Hurricane Florence:

  • Full-time jobs lost: 54 (DoubleTree by Hilton and New Bern Riverfront Convention Center temporarily closed due to storm damage)
  • Part-time jobs lost: 128 (DoubleTree impact)
  • Businesses closed: 11

How does that translate into actual activity?
The first indicator was MumFest 2018. The largest street festival in New Bern and Downtown New Bern’s biggest single event, MumFest was held on time just weeks after Hurricane Florence. It drew 110,000-120,000 visitors.

In fact, 2018 visitor activity to Craven County improved over 2017. Domestic visitors to and within Craven County spent $149 million in 2018, an increase of 4.96% from 2017, according to an annual study commissioned by Visit North Carolina, a unit of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina.
“Tourism has an enormous effect on New Bern and Craven County and we are thrilled with the continued growth in our area,” said Tarshi P. McCoy, executive director, New Bern-Craven County Convention and Visitor Center.
Tourism impact highlights for 2018:

  • The travel and tourism industry directly employsmore than 1,180 in Craven County
  • Total payroll generated by the tourism industry in Craven County was $30.37 million.
  • State tax revenue generated in Craven County totaled $8.11 million through state sales and excise taxes, and taxes on personal and corporate income. About $3.27 million in local taxes were generated from sales and property tax revenue from travel-generated and travel-supported businesses.

The statistics are from the “Economic Impact of Travel on North Carolina Counties 2018,” which can be accessed at partners.visitnc.com/economic-impact-studies. The study was prepared for Visit North Carolina by the U.S. Travel Association.
The growth occurred despite storm related closures of New Bern Riverfront Convention Center and DoubleTree by Hilton New Bern Riverfront, the city’s largest hotel.
DoubleTree Hotel is slated to reopen in 2020.
New Bern Riverfront Convention Center is scheduled to open the end of September with the first event, a Marine Corps Birthday Ball, scheduled in mid-October. The venue is undergoing a $12.5 million program of renovation, mitigation, and modernization, Veit said.
In addition to storm damage repair at the convention center, Craven County plans to expand and update the facility, located near the mouth of the Trent River at the Neuse River.
“We are going to get back in the fight with Wilmington and Greenville,” in competing for tourism and convention business, Veit said.
Another indicator of the county’s economic strength and resiliency is the status of a shell building the county constructed to attract new industry. An earlier attempt resulted in a building that was vacant for 10 years. The newest shell building remained vacant just 75 days.
“Economic development is red hot in Craven County,” Veit said.  Craven County is in the Top 5 in the state for new home starts, he said.

Looking Back:
Craven County suffered just over $400 million in property damage from Hurricane Florence.
In New Bern alone, the city removed more than 155,000 cubic yards of vegetative debris left behind by Hurricane Florence.  An additional 9,300 tons of construction debris was collected when residents and businesses cleaned up after the storm.
City and mutual aid crews made more than 5,700 trips to the landfill.  Ten municipalities from across the state came to New Bern to provide mutual aid for disaster cleanup.
It took 77 days to collect all of the vegetative and construction debris, for a total cost of $4.5 million.