Mount Airy and Surry County, like much of the nation, are still struggling under the weight of a sluggish economy.
Yesterday, though, the county saw two reasons for optimism.
North Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler was in town, and part of his visit included some time at Pilot Mountain Pride.
There was a time when agriculture played a pre-eminent role in the local economy, supporting many families who farmed as well as related businesses. Agriculture is still here, but its influence on the economy has dwindled, and the future of family farms looked bleak just a couple of years ago.
Pilot Mountain Pride is changing that. The organization is helping to educate local farmers on what is needed to compete in today’s market, and is grouping those small farms into one large marketing effort, so that they can sell their crops to stores and restaurants, something individual small farms could not do.
The future of the family farm in Surry County is considerably brighter today, and Troxler was duly impressed with what he saw. The secretary even went so far to say that Pilot Mountain Pride should serve as a model to other communities as a way to enhance the local food movement and to help local economies return to prosperity.
On the same day Troxler visited the county, Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce Director of Tourism and Marketing Jessica Roberts related some just-released figures from the North Carolina Division of Tourism, Film and Sports Development.
Those statistics show that tourism spending in Surry County grew by a healthy 7.9 percent over the previous year, exceeding $105,000,000 in 2011.
The report showed that 760 people are employed in Surry County in some level of the tourism industry, and the total tourism-related payroll exceeds $14 million.
Roberts was quick to say that while the Mayberry draw continues to be the major driving force there, other segments of the local tourism scene are growing in their influence.
Neither Pilot Mountain Pride nor the tourism industry will replace all of the tobacco and textile jobs that have been lost over the years, but both are healthy economic growth industries in their own right, and they are showing that slowly, but surely, Mount Airy and Surry County are reinventing themselves.