Accolades flow at retirement party for TDA head | #retirement | #elderly | #seniors
Dozens of well-wishers filled a Cascades Mountain Retreat conference room Tuesday to bid farewell to a woman who spent the past decade helping to build a thriving local tourism industry.
Beth Carden, executive director of the Henderson County Tourism Development Authority, officially retires March 31. Her departure is leaving many of her colleagues, government officials and TDA staff and volunteers wondering how to fill a void left by someone who injected so much energy, enthusiasm and a cooperative spirit within the entire business community.
Gary Heisey, a savvy businessman who serves as the marketing and branding expert for his company, Branddoor.com, as well as executive director for Mission Acceleration, said he had mixed emotions about Carden’s retirement.
“I’ve known Beth for 20 years in a number of roles, and she’s been a wonderful resource for the community,” said Heisey, who also was director of the Small Business Center at Blue Ridge Community College.
“She provided great leadership, but she’s leaving (the TDA) in a good place. I’m happy that she’s going to have the time to do things in retirement that she’s always wanted to do.”
Hendersonville Mayor Barbara Volk, who read a proclamation declaring March 31 “Beth Carden Day in Hendersonville” during Tuesday’s reception, agreed that Carden’s shoes will be hard to fill.
“It’s difficult to have change when everything is running so well,” Volk said. “She’s leaving at the top of her game.”
Several others voiced similar accolades, including Flat Rock Vice Mayor Anne Coletta, who described Carden as a busy and dedicated woman whose sense of humor helped her to win over people wherever she went.
“She’s done a lot to let tourists know what we have to offer in Flat Rock,” Coletta said.
Jamie Blount, a volunteer worker with the TDA for the past four years, said he enjoyed working for Carden because “she leaves you alone and let’s you do your job.”
“She’s really good at talking to strangers,” Blount added. “You could say she’s a ‘universal mixer;’ I think she’s leaving her job gracefully.”
“It’s been phenomenal what she’s done in North Carolina,” said Phyllis Rogers of Flat Rock. “She’s known all over the state.”
“And the country,” added her husband, Larry Rogers, executive director of Henderson County Partners for Economic Progress in Flat Rock.
Carden was executive director of the Brevard/Transylvania County Chamber of Commerce’s Tourism Office for six years before shifting to the Henderson County Tourism Development Authority in 2009 as a general employee.
“I worked every job in that office – sometimes two or three at the same time,” she said.
Her hard work paid off when she was named to her current position in 2012.
Since then, the loquacious woman, whose mind seems to run on several tracks simultaneously, successfully led an effort to unify the local business community while educating the general public about the economic benefits tourism brings for everyone.
“My goal was to empower the (tourism) industry to help itself so they wouldn’t be so dependent on the TDA,” Carden said. “That’s one of the things I’m most proud of, and that’s really the main reason Hendersonville has done so well through this pandemic. The industry was prepared to start working together and to think out of the box.
“When I first came here, people didn’t know each other, and they’d been doing tourism for a long time,” she added. “That’s why we’re breaking 34-year-old (hotel occupancy) records right now, when a lot of our peers are struggling and their occupancy rates are really low.”
Carden said the local hospitality industry’s success is due to them being “quick on their feet, figuring out how to make lemonade out of lemons.”
“The industry here in this county is fearless,” she said. “We’re one of the few communities that offers hospitality and speaks to people on the street. It’s a community attitude that has greatly been enhanced over the years; it’s not one of those things you can put your finger on – it’s an attitude.
“TDA is just a catalyst,” she continued. “We’ve always been sort of a quarterback, and we’ve provided a lot of tools to help people, and it was their choice whether to use them or not. A lot of them did, and those who did found success over the years. That’s the No. 1 thing I’m most proud of.”
After a rare pause, Carden said she’s really looking forward to meeting a grandson who was born in November, and to welcoming another out-of-state grandchild when she is brought into world sometime in May.
She also plans to spend time relaxing with her husband, Billie, at their 10-acre home on Solomon Road in Cedar Mountain.
“I’m fourth generation on that property,” Carden said proudly. “There’s a 170-year-old barn, so we’re just going to do things around our place and spend time with family. But, since people have been asking me, I might do some consulting.”
She also said she’ll always remember her hard-working colleagues, creative business cohorts and the many strong, talented and dedicated volunteers and staff members who supported her during her reign at the TDA.
“I truly believe tourism is now one of the top economic drivers in this community, and that’s pretty phenomenal when you think about it because it’s not an essential,” she said. “It’s been a journey of love; I’ve enjoyed seeing the community grow and survive, and to know that I had a little part of that is rewarding to me.”
Stephen Kindland is a freelance writer, photographer and author of an award-winning children’s book titled “I Beg Your Pardon, But This Is My Garden!” He can be reached at email@example.com.