LaRose visit

From left: Valerie Freda, Eric Hoffman, Nicole McCabe, Karen Raymore, Frank LaRose, Audrey Martin, Valerie Fox, Bailey Simons

LOGAN — Secretary of State Frank LaRose met at a business roundtable on Monday to discuss the state of tourism in the Hocking Hills.

The roundtable met at the Inn & Spa at Cedar Falls. The group consisted of members of the Hocking Hills Tourism Association (HHTA) and local business owners: Karen Raymore, executive director of the HHTA, Eric Hoffman, vice president of Friends of the Hocking Hills, Audrey Martin, deputy director of the HHTA, Valerie Freda, owner of Cabins by the Caves, Nicole McCabe, general manager at the Inn & Spa at Cedar Falls, Valerie Fox, owner of Treehouse Treats and Treasures, and Bailey Simons, executive director of the Hocking Hills Chamber of Commerce.

LaRose started the discussion, speaking on his role as secretary of state. His office assists in two areas: voting and business, LaRose said. Last year, efforts in both respects were very successful, LaRose explained.

Ohio had its most successful election ever in 2020, and a record-breaking number of businesses were created, too — 171,000, LaRose said. He attributes this to courage in trying circumstances.

“People said, ‘I’m not getting the number of hours I would normally want in my service industry job,’ or maybe ‘I have to stay home because the kids, I don’t have childcare and they’re not in school, so I’m going to start that work from home business,’ or maybe ‘I was laid off from my factory job, but I’m going to start that (business)’... So people were finding creative ways to start (businesses).”

Though the volume of new businesses isn’t an economic indicator, what it does indicate is that Ohioans are hopeful for the future, LaRose said.

“When we emerge from this — this difficult environment that we’ve all been living through over the last year... Ohioans believe that there will be a brighter future and that’s indicated by the optimism that they’ve shown in their willingness to go start a new business,” LaRose said.

Though not new to entrepreneurship, members of the roundtable confirmed the feelings of optimism, excitement and success LaRose was describing.

“We have too much occupancy at the moment,” McCabe, of the Inn & Spa at Cedar Falls, said. “We’ve had the best year we’ve ever had — in the midst of a global pandemic.”

Freda, of Cabins by the Caves, said the winter season was busy, with almost all of her units booked at any given time. “When we reopened last May, it’s just been nonstop, really,” Freda said.

Executive Director of the Hocking Hills Chamber of Commerce Bailey Simons concurred with LaRose, stating that the county has seen a flood of new businesses, too.

“At the chamber level, we’ve had more people come through our door to help with business plans and things like that, to get (help) financing or whatnot, but also use (the secretary of state’s) website quite a bit,” Simons said.

Even after Hocking Hills State Park closed and lodging was closed for 41 days, cabins were still getting filled, Raymore of the HHTA, said. “All of our outdoor adventure outfitters... they’ve all had a banner year as well,” she said.

Tourism has been great, McCabe said – almost too great. McCabe went on to say that staffing housekeepers and restaurant staff has been difficult.

Freda too noted that her business is always hiring, and that most of her employees come from referrals. “It’s a great situation to be in, but it is a challenge in this area for the labor market,” Freda said.

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