About 6,000 young people gathered in Dalton, Ga., this weekend for a conference expected to bring more than $1 million in estimated economic impact.
Those dollars are important in Whitfield County, which has struggled to recoup sales tax dollars lost since 2008.
"This is one of, if not the, biggest event for our community this year," Rebecca Bolton, director of sales and marketing for the Northwest Georgia Trade and Convention Center, wrote in an email. "Our team has worked to bring this event here for over a year."
The 10th annual Winter Ramp, produced by Karen Wheaton Ministries of Hamilton, Ala., provides three days of Christian worship, ministry through dance and drama and preaching to youth from all over the United States and Canada, according to Joe Reeser, a staff member of the ministry.
The conference began in Whitfield County on Thursday evening and continued with several sessions held Friday and today.
"This event is extremely important for the Dalton community, bringing upwards of 6,000 people from all over the country to Dalton and filling the hotels and restaurants in an otherwise very slow time of year," Bolton wrote.
Reeser said most of the youths are high school students from church groups. Many of them may be facing difficulties in their lives such as substance abuse, addiction or coming from broken homes, he said.
"Our primary focus is ministering to youth groups from all over the nation; we want them to experience the presence of God," Reeser said. "To see those kids literally experience freedom from depression and darkness, from pain and grief, is the highlight of the weekend."
The annual event first was held at the ministry's headquarters in Alabama, but it was moved to Chattanooga last year after it outgrew the ministry's capacity. Next year, organizers plan to return to Chattanooga, Reeser said.
The Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau estimated the event last year had an economic impact of $2.7 million for the city.
Dalton and Whitfield County officials have worked to promote tourism in the area. Last year, total lodging tax collected in the city and county was a record $1.035 million, the first time the amount has exceeded $1 million. Officials have said they hope to set another record this year.