WHITEVILLE, NC (WECT) - Officials with the Columbus (County) Chamber of Commerce and Tourism say one of the rural area's assets – its proximity to several cities – is a disadvantage for local businesses because so many county residents flock out of town to spend money.
"People just get in the habit of going to Myrtle Beach or to Wilmington or to Fayetteville and think that they're getting a better deal…," Chamber President Jennifer Holcomb said.
Chamber leaders hope to change that mindset with the launch of a social media campaign touting the importance of local spending.
"I've seen a lot of the world in my day, but my favorite place is Columbus County," an actor playing Christopher Columbus exclaims in a five-minute YouTube video released this week as part of the campaign.
"The more money we spend in our community, the more money we will have circulating in our local economy, and that way we grow and everyone wins," Columbus explains in the video, which had been viewed nearly 1,000 times by Friday afternoon.
Holcomb said the campaign encourages Columbus County residents to spread the word about their spending on social media using #KeepItColumbus for a chance to win prizes and gift certificates to local businesses.
Whiteville Mayor Terry Mann, who chairs the committee organizing the campaign, said he's not very active on social media and admits he was initially skeptical about the approach. But after watching the video and learning more about the potential for the campaign to go viral, Mann said he thinks it will be effective, especially with young people.
Mann said it's important for people to understand how their spending funds local government. He explained that increased sales tax revenue would help cities and towns maintain or even lower their property tax rates without reducing government services.
As a third-generation merchant, Mann can also personally attest to the impact of local spending on businesses. The Chamber's campaign starts as the holiday buying season begins, a crucial period for retailers like J.S. Mann's, a clothing store in downtown Whiteville.
"If you're going to promote retails, there's no better time to do it than the month of November and December," Mann said.
Chamber leaders aren't just promoting retail spending. They're also trying to show how using local businesses like banks and healthcare facilities also helps the county's economy.
"Even when you take your taxes to be done at a local accountant, anything like that that you do to keep your money in Columbus County, we want you to hash tag it," Holcomb said.