Opinion

Forks opened door to opportunity

Business

Columnist

In this troubled economy, it’s more important than ever to respond quickly when opportunities arise. That’s precisely what the people of Forks did when author Stephenie Meyer chose this rural town on the Olympic Peninsula for her best-selling book about teenage love and vampires.

Published in 2005, “Twilight” is a romance novel about a handsome young vampire, Edward, and his teenage soul mate, Bella. Meyer wanted a drizzly and moody backdrop for her novel, and Forks, said to be the rainiest place in the United States, was an ideal setting.

The rest, as they say, is history.

The book reached No. 5 on The New York Times Best Seller list for young adults and has been translated into 20 languages. As the book’s fame grew, so did interest in the town of Forks. The Chamber of Commerce realized that this book about vampires provided an opportunity to breathe new life into their town.

Forks has been struggling to regain its economic footing since the downturn in the forest industry in the 1980s. Timber harvests in the Pacific Northwest dropped by 80 percent because of the controversy over logging old-growth timber and the listing of the northern spotted owl as a threatened species.

When “Twilight” came along, Chamber officials seized the opportunity to market their town to the book’s legions of fans around the world.

The city energetically promotes its ties to the wildly popular book and the Chamber dedicates a major section of its Web site to the “Twilight” phenomenon — even creating a map of the real locations used in the fictional tale.

Marcia Bingham of the Forks Chamber says the effort has greatly increased tourism. “Normally, we have 150 people a month at our Visitor’s Center. In April, we had 4,800.”

Bingham says that, while hard numbers are difficult to come by, the “Twilight” series — four books in all — has been a shot in the arm for small business owners in Forks. “One new store deals solely in ’Twilight’ souvenirs, other stores have added related merchandise, and we work with several tour companies to bring fans to our area.”

In fact, Forks is one of the few communities in the entire state to report a steady increase in tax revenues. Last year sales tax collections increased 7.46 percent.

The Chamber is now working to entice more of the thousands of “Twilight” fans to stay in the city’s motels, which would provide a much needed revenue boost through the 2 percent hotel/motel tax.

According to a recent article in the Puget Sound Business Journal, Forks’ fame is now going global. “‘Twilight’ is just getting to be a big thing overseas,” said Jeannie Barresi, who started a “Twilight” tour for her Colorado travel company.

Seattle’s Convention and Visitors Bureau, Washington State Tourism and the Port of Seattle are teaming up to tout “Twilight” trips in Germany, Japan, France and the United Kingdom.

Forks has not been able to capitalize on all facets of the “Twilight” craze. A “Twilight” movie was released in 2008 and another is under way, but apparently Forks is too remote to accommodate Hollywood film crews who need to be near sound studios and film processing facilities. The first film was shot near Portland, Ore., and the second is being filmed outside Vancouver, B.C.

While Washington lost out on the “Twilight” movies, state lawmakers in January expanded our state’s ability to attract future film productions. Gov. Gregoire signed a law that rebates 30 percent of what a film company spends in the state during filming.

The incentive is working, according to Amy Dee of Washington Film Works, a not-for-profit group that offers funding assistance to commercials, television and feature films shooting in Washington state. “It will make us just as competitive as Oregon,” says Dee.

There is no question the current economic downturn is taking a toll on communities across the nation. But the people of Forks are proving that, even in the worst of times, you can still find opportunities.

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