There is one thing on the horizon in 2011 that could possibly help the struggling Dalton area economy and that is the anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War. Just a few months away, in 2011, it will be 150 years since the Civil War divided this nation. Northwest Georgia is the site of Sherman’s March to the Sea. The area is filled with historical landmarks and tale after tale of both Union and Confederate acts of heroism.
The anniversary will actually last five years-from 2011 until the anniversary of the end in 2016. This may be a tourism boost that the Dalton area desperately needs to fund jobs in the hotel and retail industries, as well as local restaurants. State and national landmarks in the area could see a large increase in visits and revenue as folks make their way down the I-75 corridor and hop on the Blue and Gray Trail as they head throughout the state to see the remnants of the Atlanta Campaign.
Tourism is greatly needed, and cannot come a day too soon. The area still has the highest unemployment rates in the nation. In mid-August 2010, over 800 people in the area attended a job fair at the Northwest Trade and Convention Center in Dalton. This was to fill 45 jobs that are being offered by the Georgia Department of Labor to fill its new Disability Adjudication Services (DAS) office in Dalton.
These 45 jobs would provide a lot of relief for the people who will be offered a job. But what about the 755 other individuals who applied and will not get a position? If Dalton is to ever recover from the loss of so many jobs from the downturn in the economy, it has to move beyond the flooring industry mainstay. Those jobs may very well never return. Area residents have clamored for diversification for years, but often even residents think that to do so, we have to pull in new industry. To do so takes years and incentives from already budget-riddled Whitfield County.
In my opinion, what are most often overlooked and under-marketed are the local history resources and the potential for tourism that lie therein. There are many area sites that would love to have naturalists and historians alike. Crown Gardens and Archives has been renovating. The amount of material located within its doors is staggering and exciting, and hopefully this new renovation under the direction of Dr. Ellen Thompson and the Whitfield-Murray Historical Society will prove an incentive to getting new traffic within its doors. It certainly is a terrific move in the right direction.
The city of Dalton and Whitfield County needs to follow suit. Visitors to the area over the next five years need to be encouraged to stay overnight or two. There needs to be a clear marketing plan to attract these visitors and have them spend time and money in Northwest Georgia before heading further south to the landmarks-and the hotels, shops, and restaurants-located south of us.
There should be no history publication or website left untouched in advertising. Dalton has many sites that will provide lots of incredible history for the Civil War History Buff, from reenactments in Tunnel Hill to the Confederate Cemetery at West Hill Cemetery to those who would wish to hike through the Dug Gap Battle Park to visually see the entrenchments built by Rebel soldiers.
The counties around Whitfield have much to offer as well, and a joint effort by them and the pooling of money and talent could be a boon to Murray County, Walker County, Gordon County and Catoosa. There are some websites that offer information about Northwest Georgia, and hopefully our elected officials will see fit to invest in the history of the area and diversify there.