Neighbors During COVID-19: What Georgia Reopening Means For WNC
Today some businesses in Georgia are now open after Governor Brian Kemp gave an executive order. Blue Ridge Public Radio talks to a Cherokee County official what this means for Western North Carolina.
The town of Murphy lies at the very western end of North Carolina. The state lines of Georgia and Tennessee are less than 30 minutes away. Cherokee County Economic Development Director Paul Worley explains the geographic bowl made by mountain ranges in North Georgia, the Nantahala Gorge in North Carolina and another gorge in Tennessee, make Murphy a hub of economic activity.
“We are the retail and workforce center for three counties in Georgia - Fanning, Towns and Union Counties; Polk County in Tennessee and Graham, Clay and Cherokee Counties in North Carolina,” says Worley.
This means that people across state lines are intertwined - personally and economically. Residents of both Cherokee County and North Georgia have tested positive for COVID-19, often being tested across stateliness.
“About 40 percent of our workforce actually comes out of North Georgia,” says Worley who explained that tourism and manufacturing are the biggest pieces of the county’s economy. Harrah’s Cherokee Valley Casino is located near Murphy.
Worley is worried that Cherokee County could lose business as neighboring states reopen before North Carolina.
“None of us have ever seen an economy totally shut down for a month. So we don’t know really what to expect from this,” says Worley. “I just think that there are going to be a lot of long term repercussions to this - if we opened up everything tomorrow we still aren’t out of the woods.”
Worley adds he’s also concerned about the real estate market, the financial stability of Cherokee County’s lone hospital, Erlanger Western Carolina, and the supply chain for local manufacturers.