Feb. 3—By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
BLUEFIELD — A Christian writers' conference coming to Mercer County this April will be giving visitors from across the nation and from as far away as Africa an opportunity to see the city of Bluefield and experience what the surrounding region has to offer.
The Granda Theater in downtown Bluefield is the setting for the sixth annual HopeWords Writers Conference, an event which has grown to become one of the top Christian writers' conferences in the United States, said Travis Lowe, president of the IPHC Extension Loan Fund.
This year's conference is the sixth one being held in Bluefield and the historic Granada Theater, Lowe said. Many attendees have registered already for the April 12 to 13 event.
"We've already sold over 300 in-person tickets and that's people from over 30 states and even Canada and Kenya," he added. "We have a couple coming from Kenya."
Lowe appeared before the Mercer County Commission late last year to request funding for the conference and received $2,500.
"We keep the cost of registration low so that it is affordable for locals to attend and to help with travel costs for those who are coming from far away," Lowe told the commissioners. "Our registrations only cover about two-thirds of the total cost of the conference and then we work to raise the additional funds."
Last year, the conference's registration website, which hosted a logo and link to the Visit Mercer County website, had over 40,000 visitors from all over the world, Lowe said. These visits resulted in over 500 registrations, including online and in person, from 40 states and eight countries including Australia, New Zealand, Kenya, Japan, Switzerland, Great Britain and more.
"We had over 400 people from 39 states and Canada travel to Mercer County to attend the conference. Commissioner (Greg) Puckett was able to attend, address the crowd, and had lots of our attendees fill out an arts and tourism survey," he recalled.
Around 100 of the attendees toured the city of Bluefield and toured the town of Bramwell and East River Mountain, Lowe said.
Hotels in Bluefield and Princeton were sold out, many Airbnb's from Bramwell to Bluewell and as far as Tazewell and Bland were booked, and businesses and restaurants had sales which boasted tourism income during an off season for tourism, Lowe added.
Lowe told the county commission that he had heard from attendees who brought their families back to Mercer County for vacations.
"One attendee brought his entire extended family and spent a week at Pipestem," he said. "I heard from a lady that attended the conference and then returned with several of her friends to spend a girls' weekend in Bluefield and Princeton. I even heard from a family that returned to look at houses as they considered moving to the area."
"It's a tremendous venue," Lowe replied when asked why the HopeWords Writers Conference keeps coming back to Bluefield and Mercer County. "We love the history and the theater. We really make Bluefield a part of the conference."
This year, the HopeWords conference has been working with the Mercer County Convention & Visitors Bureau, the city of Bluefield, the Bluefield Arts and Revitalization Corporation and the Chamber of Commerce of the Two Virginias to prepare for the visitors.
"Also, since we have so many authors this year who write for teens and children, I am beginning to reach out to local teachers to see if there are ways we can incorporate events for our local students," Lowe said.
— Contact Greg Jordan at firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact Greg Jordan at email@example.com