Don Cason

Interview by
Published on
October 28, 2022

In this episode...

A beautiful place to live, work and play - this vision is as clear as the Carolina blue sky for the Executive Director of the Rutherford County Tourism Development Authority, Don Cason. With over 20 years of Tourism and Economic Development experience, Don is optimistic that Rutherford County could be the go-to place to live for people who want to get out of the big cities but still live nearby. If you’re a truck driver living in the county or nearby, can you imagine a more vibrant place with booming businesses, beautiful parks, and recreational areas, -and more work opportunities for truck drivers and owner-operators - not to mention the possibility of Highway 74 becoming an Interstate. Listen to the possibilities and more on the new episode of Life By The Mile, delivered by FreightWorks.

Don Cason

Don Cason is Rutherford County Tourism Development Authority Executive Director


when I was growing up and I was little I used to count all the trucks on the highway and my my two brothers and I as we'd be riding down the highway we would count the ones with noses and ones were flat and you did yeah and I'll be honest with you one day I thought I was gonna grow and be a truck driver welcome to life of the mile delivered by freightworks one of America's fastest growing podcasts actually produced by truck indicted to tell a story compelling driver's story I need to do something big insightful Industries all here right now it's life by the mild delivered by freightworks I'm your host Butch Maltby and uh it's a tremendous Delight to come to you with insightful Innovative creative and compassionate guests we have one today Don Cason is the executive director of the tourism Development Authority here in Rutherford County this of course in North Carolina is where freightworks has its home base now listen it's important for you to subscribe to the YouTube channel make sure that you remember as you you like share engage make comments it helps us grow this Channel and Don it's it's great to have you here well Butch it's an honor to be here and thank you for inviting me and let me be a part of this so now listen I I want to ask you this question real quickly how in the world did you ever get involved in tourism you know our our viewers and listeners love to know the story behind the story what's your story well my wife and I are high school sweethearts from Palatka Florida and her and I have ever since we've gotten married we've always wanted to work together so we wound up purchasing a bed and breakfast back in 1995. so we've been in the hospitality and tourism business since 95. and uh she basically runs ends and I do Community Development we work together and the ends however I always like getting out in the community and helping the community become a better place to live work and play so that's my job and that's how I got involved with tourism is just because um it's a great product it's a great thing that helps the community from a standpoint of developing quality of life bringing visitors to our community but it also helps with the quality of life of the citizens that live here because every tourism asset is a product that can enhance you know the lifestyle of the citizens that live here and that's what we're focused on and uh but I just love tourism I love people when they're traveling and when they're out and about and my wife likes to say I'm in my happy place and she's in hers that's good that's good now you know it's it's interesting because of course here at freightworks where where people that are committed to biblical values and and we're a diverse company and not everybody follows those uh ethical and religious guidelines spiritual guidelines but we really believe that God put us in this County if you were to describe to people that didn't know Rutherford County and I want you to spend a few minutes and talk about this how would you paint the picture of Rutherford County for people who've never been here basically Rutherford County is a great destination it has great landscape it's just one hour away from Charlotte Asheville martinburg and Greenville Greenville South Carolina and you take Rutherford County put it right in the middle of all those big communities and not far from Charlotte and not far from Charlotte yes probably an hour and 15 20 minutes on this side of the county and we we're rural we're Outdoors beautiful place to live and back to the biblical I mean we like to say this is God's place I mean it's definitely a the creation here we've got everything from mountains to main streets to streams to Lakes to hiking trails biking trails we've got Commerce in our downtowns we're working to enhance all of our downtowns we've got roads highways I mean for a rural community Rutherford County's got a lot going on and uh my wife and I don't feel like it's an accident that we were here we I've been in Economic Development tourism for a number of years and uh I just felt like this is where I needed to be and the Lord has opened many doors for many things to happen and can you talk Don a little bit about the Commerce history and the economic history of Rutherford County because of course my 90 year old mother for example up in Lancaster Pennsylvania we moved her up from the Tidewater area of Virginia she said why is it called Spindale I mean for example can you just give a little insight because we have prospective drivers that watch this okay we have people that are just interested in life of the mile can you talk a little bit about the economic history of Rutherford County yes well back many years before um in late 90s and 2000 Rutherford County was with industry we had a lot of manufacturing different things Spindale it was a very textile industry and that's where some of that name comes from with Spindale and but a lot of those plants and Industry went by the wayside as things you know started evolving Through The Years well we're we are Reinventing ourselves basically um we do have industry here as you know in manufacturing but not to the degree that we'd like we hope to be able to grow and have more of that but that's also why we're focusing on tourism in our area we're basically taking a look at our our landscape and our assets and we're just trying to say you know we've got to focus on what we can do to help bring people here make it a better place to live work and play and when you do that that makes a place that people want to visit so we're taking a look at Economic Development and creating industry and replacing that industry that we lost many years ago but we're also going to grow and enhance truism which will also enhance place to live for our citizens well you know and I was realizing this recently I I didn't know that I guess we're like 576 square miles I mean it's a big County right it's very big it's it's very so there's a lot of room to grow yes yes a lot of room to grow got a lot of Farmland you know I didn't mention that we got a lot of uh Farmland agriculture we're working on agritourism product as we speak so there's just a lot of things to do and grow uh the area I mean and with many people leaving the large cities looking for a good place to live and and we're working on our broadband and different things so there's just there's a lot of opportunity to live here and uh then like I said you know from the big cities you're not too far away if you want to get there but you can come home and have a peaceful uh quiet place and a lot of Farmland open land or you can be right downtown Forest City or Spindale or Rutherfordton and have a lot of activity Freight works of course as an asset based carrier uh was a growing number of trucks you know there was an article in the Daily Courier some months ago here three or four months ago I it was the largest single new truck purchase in the history of the counties and 13.3 million dollars 75 new Peterbilt Trucks discussions about 50 new trucks next year so you know in 94 of truck companies in America have less than 100 trucks so right here in Rutherford County we've got an asset based carrier that's uh that's growing Dom why do you think it's important for there to be a transportation and logistics company here in the county well again and that's awesome the stats you just gave and the growth and expansion um because basically that expansion and stuff it creates new jobs and those jobs are awesome um having a Workforce here to help uh our community grow is awesome but then we've got high Interstate well Highway 74. where we hope to becomes an interstate exactly we all need to work together to make that happen but it is going to happen it is it is I think I know all of our County Commissioners and elected officials are on board with that and I and I just talked to Chuck Edwards who's running running for uh Congress and Jake Johnson who's a representative here we've got folks in Raleigh and folks in DC that are working hard okay for that Interstate 74 designation which will help us a lot yeah that'll be huge that'll be awesome to have that and that Transportation Corridor with 74 coming across hooking to 26 and then the 221 the new highway that we're getting expanded now as we talk that through for people can you just explain how all of those different arteries are going to connect well basically you've got 74 coming across the lower part of Rutherford County and goes over and hooks into interstate from west to east from west to east correct then going north to south you're going to have 221 which is partly four-laned in down around Spartanburg area coming up through going over 74 but then it reverts back into a two lane and then goes through Rutherfordton so what they're going to do is make that four lane going around Rutherfordton and hooking up and going up into gradually the four lane to go up and hook into interstate 40. so then you're going to have that connection of course that's many years off but you know that's something they want to have be able to do that four lane because 221 does go all the way up to 40 now but a lot of that is two lane so but it's getting ready to be four lane around Rutherfordton another piece of that but just as you know moving Freight and commerce around these highways is what we need to do and we really appreciate the truckers and their commitment to the industry and what you guys do well and you know it's uh there are parts of it that aren't public yet but it is public that freightworks is building a new terminal and uh freightworks uh has initiated property acquisition right at the intersection of 74 and 221 and there's going to be development activity that takes place there you know Don when people ask you the question why are you optimistic about this area but why are you optimistic about our County as you look to the Future what would you say I would say based on our location and everything going on around us we're we're poised and positioned for that and what I'm saying is those big cities and people wanting to get out away from that but live close we're poised for that but what I'm optimistic about it is just six years ago our County embarked on a program called Rutherford bound if you go to Rutherford dot com you will see why I'm excited because all seven municipalities in the county have voted unanimously to do a county-wide tourism asset development plan to tell people quickly this seven okay you've got um four City you've got Spindale Rutherfordton um Lake Lure Chimney Rock ellenboro and Bostic and then you got the County government so all of those municipalities have come together and focused on a 20-year plan to develop assets oh man and here's the deal the other Miracle is you ask why I'm excited I'm excited because every one of those municipalities council members have voted unanimously to support and that again go to and you'll see all the assets we're building Parks Kiwanis Park we're building streetscapes we're making mountain and biking hiking trails uh uh in Spindale there's getting ready to be a in the next two years we'll have completed a bike pump track and skate park right in downtown Spindale and it connects the two thoroughfares east and west of Spindale so I guess you say why are you excited I'm excited that the leadership a rural community is focused on what can we do to be better in the future and working together other to do it right now today the TDA has put in 1.5 million dollars of product or money into these different projects between grants and the municipalities matching it we've got almost 11 million dollars of Assets in the ground and we're planning on it'll be 40 and 50 million before we're done in the next 10 years that is just incredible yeah now Don let me let me ask you this question because people are often interested in this talk about your own Journey where did you where were you born where did you grow up what'd you do well basically born in San Angelo Texas my dad was in the Air Force there's a Air Force Base there yeah and that's and I was born there and within three months I'd have been born in Scotland okay because he went on yeah this is a little this is a little Rabbit Trail we're not going to chase but uh an adopted daughter Tatiana married a graduate from the Air Force Academy she's our daughter okay and they were in San Angelo really at that Air Force Base well San Angelo Texas where I was born that's awesome yeah so it's a little it's like nobody knew until we just talked about it then then what happened well then from there um we traveled around or moved around because my dad didn't enforce he settled down in Palatka Florida okay so my wife and I and we lived there through high school I mean I moved there in at the age of three where's that so people it's just south of Jacksonville England from St Augustine so um but we was that hit by the hurricane um it was hit a little bit but not near okay yeah because it's more on the east coast and uh but there I've got some friends and family that took some licks so but we were uh and be in prayer for all of them all the State of Florida right so but anyway um High School uh graduated from high school in Palatka got a baseball scholarship to uh Huntington College in Montgomery Alabama okay and uh my wife and I were dating at that time in high school were you an infielder no I was out there I was a center fielder you were yeah I played center field and um you couldn't know it now but I I hold stolen base records and uh batting averages in my high school and college so I trust that I used I used to be able to run really good but as you get older things get bigger and knees give out that's that's a different podcast yeah okay that's a different podcast all right so so the high school sweethearts from Palatka Florida moved to Montgomery Alabama for college left graduated from college and went to work for a Fortune 500 company called meat Corporation in Dayton Ohio okay and lived there for a number of years and my wife and I decided that um during that 10 year of being in the Fortune 500 company and working like crazy and I was traveling across her and I just decided that we wanted to do something together and that's when we bought our first in bought our first in and moved to Gatlinburg Tennessee and that's where we um I also from Gatlinburg Tennessee again she ran the end I went and was the chamber executive for for Gatlinburg and yes so we've moved this is our third Community okay and she this is her third in and and this is your last place this is this is it this this is it you didn't say it but we talked about this before it's your last place this is it yeah I've got uh a good five to eight years left and I'm gonna work really hard and living and working in Rutherford County and making it the best it can be talk real quickly about the Esmeralda okay the Esmeralda Inn is a 14 room in it's located in Chimney Rock North Carolina it has a restaurant and we also have uh four cabins that belong to the Inn itself and it's located just one mile uh outside of Chimney Rock and uh it's just a really neat place and we're excited to be there what's so interesting is that you're the tourism Development Authority executive director and you've got this like real-time focus group engagement with the Esmeralda in yeah with your part your coat you know what I'm saying yeah where you get a feel think around the pulse of what's really going on yeah and you know they call it co-preneurs by the way okay uh entrepreneur is one entrepreneur but there's a whole field out there called co-preneurs and it's husbands and wives or partners that work together and actually Freight works that way yeah right Josh and Andrea farmer she's not on camera much but Andrea farmer is of course extremely involved in what freightworks is trying to do and build a you know biblically based company that keeps his promises helps his drivers and and uh and grows so the two of you are you can when you go home tonight you can say Butch said we're co-preneurs that's good and because we we truly believe the Lord has brought us together as husband and wife and that we've been positioned to work together and again I mentioned earlier she's in her happy place and I'm in mine but there's a lot of things that we do together and uh we just know we're doing what we're supposed to be doing now you you've been privy of course in your position and would be along with uh County officials uh Burgett over an economic development uh you know our friends at the Chamber of Commerce human privy to some of what's happening with 74 and 221. when you look at things like for example the need for more hotels in the area can you talk about that a little bit I mean can you give us some insight on the pressure for more things like that hotels restaurants and the like yeah basically prior to pandemic we were growing 2019 tourism was growing in Rutherford County where are people coming from all over when I say all over everything within a day's drive but the heaviest Travelers we have is Nashville um Charlotte is like one of the number one spots um from visitors to come to Rutherford County and we have um and we can get some visitors from Florida of course um but again Atlanta Atlanta but amazingly Charlotte and then uh Nashville Tennessee in that area but basically um tourism in Rutherford County is just growing it has again before pandemic and now post pandemic and that's what I'm saying is rural communities and Western North Carolina has been discovered by people in the past that who had never discovered us due to the pandemic people wanted to get out of the Big Towns stay a little bit more social distance and they're not applying and they're driving and so forth so all of those components are oxy tax for our county has doubled in three years from where it was in 2009 and that of course is the economic fuel for TDA right yes yes okay yes that oxy tax that uh tax that is charged at the lodging facilities is six percent and that is taxed and the County government collects that and then I have a TDA Board of 11 board members that oversee the spending of that well it's that funding that we're able to put one third of that those dollars back into the community and develop different tourism-related capital expenditure projects we take the other two-thirds and market and promote Rutherford County as a place to visit so um but again the need for uh extra lodging is growing um we're very excited about a study that we're getting ready to do to put that together to help uh confirm that but again all weekends uh the lodging that we have is filling up for instance Chimney Rock Lake Lure every all the facilities are being full um here in Forest City and so forth they're full on weekends for sure you can always use more during the week business and someone in in the winter but it's just continuing to grow we've got the Tryon equestrian center that is going to be growing and needing more lodging as it develops and grows enlarges so there's just and then back to the highway infrastructure and proven and stuff here I mean it's just going to be more and more needs in the future so you asked the question earlier why I'm excited that's another reason I'm excited it's just the growth of opportunity not only from industry but from tourism and then people wanting to move here and make this uh you know their livelihood and their place to live well you know next month November is five years that I've been here and I love the county I absolutely love the county I love the people I love the potential Don when you look at the days the days ahead um what do you see as some of the key next steps that need to happen for the county to be everything that it can be because in part I want to make sure you're clear on this there will be prospective drivers for freightworks who live all over the country okay right who look at some of these podcasts and say is that a company I want to be a part of and we want to help them understand you know this is a great company and a great location so as you look ahead what are some of the key things that you see that need to happen going forward I know Broadband is one thing and other infrastructure right well and I think it's just the community leaders continue to focus on the future and where they want to be and again broadband and all that's going to be a part of that but then just what are the things that we want to enhance and beautify our community and keep it looking that way um so and then I guess as far I've lived in as you've heard my career path I have lived in multiple communities and Ruther county is exciting just because it's new and fresh and and looking forward to what their future is going to be so I think we've got to as a community to work together that's just the bottom line and we're going to have to have plans and work with our industry and as Freight Works brings more and more people in and this company grows I know you've experienced from our Economic Development Group and and that board I know they've welcomed you in and willing to work with you in any way we can so you can grow yourself but as our business and industry grows so does the community and bringing in more people to live and work and as most communities do I think we need to focus on our school system making sure we're doing everything we can to create the best school system and the education because let's face it our kids are our future so you know there's just things that we should do together to from an education standpoint but Economic Development and Tourism just everybody working together okay I'm going to ask you a really important question now you had the opportunity to come to the annual freightworks barbecue all right so that's a culinary Extravaganza can you give a nutshell for people about uh what do you experienced when you come to one of those well I'll be honest with you it was my first barbecue to come through for that size that magnitude that much food and that was just an awesome experience I enjoyed the presentation from freightworks and your vision uh the video you showed on where your your company's going and how you're recruiting drivers and just trying to be much of a you know a company that respects and supports its employees so I was impressed with that and I brought my wife with me I know you did yeah she came that was good yeah and she came just as a summary her opinion is actually maybe more important well she this was on a Saturday yes and typically my day off I'm supposed to be working at the end but I'm sure come on honey we're going to a barbecue and she kind of I don't know I said she went she was glad and she was very impressed that was her first look at Freight works and what's going on and what your vision freightworks vision is for what's going on and she was very impressed and when I told her I was coming today for this interview she says that's awesome so she was just excited to see that and she wants to know when the next barbecue is so okay well you know what Josh and Andrea farmer who really God put on her heart the birthing of this company along with Ray Farmer his dad you know it started as a biodiesel company taking uh leftover fat like from uh oil from from french fries in restaurants and reconverting that into fuel that's how Freight work started okay and uh and Josh farmer said we need a truck and he went online and bid on a truck and all of a sudden he won the bid and there's a truck and that was truck number one wow at freightworks so there's an incredible story where God's fingerprints are all over it and Dom one of the things that we love is we love getting to know the key stakeholders in the community because we all are working towards the same thing we want to make a community a safer one that's better one that has economic opportunities one that people really love and feel proud to be a part of and you were such a key part of that and we're we're looking for it especially with this development effort at 74 and 221 we're really looking forward to partnering with you and just opening up the curtain on what we're up to and and finding ways that we can partner to accomplish the things that we need to together yeah well that's awesome and I look forward to the opportunity to be able to partner with you um I think it's great I got to tell you a quick little story and I won't take too long because when I was growing up and I was little I used to count all the trucks on the highway and my my two brothers and I as we'd be riding down the highway we would count the ones with noses and ones were flat and you did yeah I always drove the flat I don't know what you call them now but you know yeah but the um but we'd always count them and I'll be honest with you one day I thought I was going to grow and be a truck driver okay now uh the world the world's gonna hear this the World's Gonna and you know what it's not too late I hear you I know but I love traveling I love driving that's why when I see truckers driving across the country I'm thinking well here oh my gosh here's an idea here's an idea and you can take it to your board maybe we should have one of the new Peterbilt trucks with a minor investment from the tourism Development Authority have a traveling billboard of why Rutherford County that's an interesting thought and that's we're having like a concept that's an interesting thought that'd be good we're having a consultation online right right now you know what I'm saying like a new Peter build yeah and we commission like a traveling tourism you know what I'm saying yeah that might be that's good is that something we can talk about at lunch we can talk about it okay all right well I know it's I know there's no commitment but it just struck me wouldn't that be something you know all over America the lower 48 have Rutherford County there yeah but anyway I did love driving and I still love driving my car but I'll be I never became a truck driver because I can't imagine having to drive such a big rig and what scared me to death was trying to back it up and park it in just this small little space the trailer right anyway well and we often ask people a question when was the first time you backed up a a trailer well the mark of great conversations I often say to people is that they come to an end and our exit is soon coming here we've only got a couple of minutes okay now's my opportunity to say thank you in a very minor kind of way but we give a gift to every podcast guest that comes so great your opportunity is for either the freightworks one okay that's and we're in freightworks one Studio by the way we call it that right around from the driver's Lounge okay so uh that's option number one option number two is this life of the mile hat it's got a patriotic theme this one over really well it's a Mid-America truck show and winter is soon around the corner so we've got this life of the mile beanie okay so don which of those do you want I'm gonna take this for the life of the models I love that logo number one great I like the Patriotic uh part of the hat and then I'm a golfer so I'm not going to go this way so I like to play golf so here's my golf hat too okay you know what you've given I think the most succinct explanation for why you picked one of the opportunity yes and that that's really good yeah this is life of the mile delivered by freightworks this is Don Cason he is the executive director of the Rutherford County North Carolina tourism Development Authority man of insights man of wisdom incredible background he's a partner with freightworks as we develop 74 and 221 that big development project there we're believing God to give us opportunities to grow significantly in the days ahead and we need people that know the kinds of things that you know it's been a joy to have you today well Butch thank you so much for having me and thank you so much for freightworks and what you're doing for our community and Across the Nation with your drivers hauling Freight that's a pretty big responsibility and we thank each of the drivers and thank you as Freight works of making Rutherford County be the best it can be your blessing we'll have you back okay thank you all right thanks for watching this episode you know life by the mile delivered by freightworks is one of the newest largest and fastest growing podcasts actually produced by trucking company now we want you to like and share this episode if you'd like to see more episodes click here and make sure that you subscribe to this channel by clicking here we'll see you there

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