WILLIAMSON - Bill Richardson, the WVU Extension Professor who has devoted his career to bringing an economic boost to the Tug Valley region by way of increasing tourism, spoke with the Williamson Daily News about his concern with the public’s perception of the “Hatfield’s and McCoy’s: White Lightening” reality series that recently made its debut on the History Channel.
“I have been waiting until the initial wave of local reaction to the new ‘Hatfield’s & McCoy’s: White Lightning” show subsided before I responded to it,” remarked Richardson. “What follows are some points I hope people will keep in mind regarding the show.”
“First however, let me say that I had nothing to do with the storylines or content of the series. My role was doing logistics, location scouting and finding characters to appear on camera. I worked for two years to bring this show here and through all the ups and downs, the producers continually assured me that the show would not portray us in a negative light. They even met with the Governor and told him the same thing.”
“This show has already put a million dollars in the economy of our area and the potential economic impact of the show, the tourism it will bring and moonshine business it is seeking to establish could exceed 100 million dollars.”
“That is not an opportunity we can afford to pass up,” emphasized Richardson.
“Mingo County is the 37th poorest county in the entire U.S. In the past 18 months we’ve lost thousands of coal mining jobs paying $70,000 and up. We have not felt the full impact of this because the unemployment benefits have not run out yet. When they do, we will fall much further down that list.”
“If you want to know what Mingo County will look like when the coal jobs play out all you have to do is go to McDowell County. That is what life after coal looks like in Southern West Virginia.”
“Because of this, we have to explore every option to bring money into our area or we will soon be just a series of blighted towns where you have to sell your home for $15,000 because no one wants to live here. We are very close to reaching the point where that decline cannot be stopped so we have to take bold steps.”
“The History Channel networks, (which include A&E) have the three highest rated shows on all of cable TV – Duck Dynasty, Pawn Stars and American Pickers. The unprecedented marketing push they put behind Hatfield’s & McCoy’s: White Lightning is because they think it can be their next big hit.
“Most places would kill for the opportunity to be featured on one of their shows and the money it will bring.”
Speaking of his employer, Richardson stated that his job is to improve this area economically and is firmly convinced that tourism is one of the best options to do this.
“I have been working for 14 years to help build the infrastructure we need to develop tourism here. We got a big boost from the Hatfield McCoy miniseries last year but the number of visitors this summer dropped off dramatically. The reason for the drop is that people have a short memory and you have to keep reminding them about what you have to offer.”
“Most tourism destination do that reminding by spending millions on tourism marketing and, other than the ATV trail system, we have almost no money to spend on marketing. This TV series is like an hour long national commercial every week for our area - a commercial we did not have to pay for. The visuals on the show make this place look gorgeous and people away from here really like the characters they are seeing on the show.”
“Tens of thousands of people are going to come here as a result of this show and spend their money with us.”
Everybody over 40 reading this grew up watching the Andy Griffith Show and the Beverly Hillbillies. We never thought those shows made mountain people look bad. We just thought they were fun and had interesting characters that we would like to meet. That is how people in the rest of the country will respond to this show. Because of this, they will come here and bring us their money and that is something we desperately need,” Richardson concluded.
The WVU Professor commented that his hope is that local residents will keep an open mind and realize what the show could mean for the local economy, and join the nation in watching the City of Williamson come alive on the screen.