By EARL RAY TOMBLIN
CHARLESTON -- West Virginia stands out as a family-friendly, adventure-driven, yet relaxing place to be, in any season. Our restaurants, hotels and motels, bed and breakfasts, and all the aspects that make West Virginia unique continually strengthen the tourism, hospitality and travel industries.
Some of the community's favorites are becoming well known to tourists. A place like Dee Jay's Restaurant in Weirton, known for its ribs, is growing in popularity among both the locals and visitors.
In Wheeling, Figaretti's Restaurant offers a taste of old-world Italy as the family-owned business has not changed its famous spaghetti sauce since Anna Figaretti started selling it to her neighbors in the early 1940's.
In Charleston, one can enjoy the distinctive West Virginia made delicacies at the Capitol Market where you can buy locally grown vegetables by area farmers or perhaps indulge in Holl's Swiss Chocolates.
This month the Lewis County Chamber of Commerce named the Hickory House Restaurant as its Business of the Month. Established in 2005, the Hickory House previously received the People's Choice Award for the top 101 unique places to dine in the state from the West Virginia Division of Tourism.
It is these neighborhood hallmarks which enables our state to offer visitors an experience to remember.
Tourism is a $42 billion industry, employing more than 44,000 people across our state. The coming years will bring more opportunities to grow this economic driver by making new connections with people from far and wide.
With West Virginia's 150th birthday occurring on June 20, 2013, events will be scheduled throughout our towns and cities, leading up to the date making it a year to remember and attracting both in-state and out-of-state visitors to all four corners of the State.
Over in "America's newest coolest small town", Lewisburg continues to receive new visitors thanks to that designation by Budget Travel magazine. In the Eastern Panhandle, Shepherdstown is full of activity as it is in the midst of celebrating the town's 250th birthday.
These are just some of the distinctions we have to celebrate and reasons visitors have to come explore our friendly hometowns.
We must continue to invest in our tourism, hospitality and travel sectors. That is why I, along with the Legislature and the Tourism Commission support the West Virginia Department of Commerce's goal to develop a strategic plan for long range growth and continued development of the tourism industry.
The people of West Virginia-those who work in our rafting, ski, lodging, and dining sectors, among many others, deserve praise for showcasing our wonderful state at her best.
Last year alone, our Welcome Centers saw more than three million visitors who travelled here. While each attraction is worthy of praise, it is the quality of service provided by members of our hospitality and travel industry that lure people back again and again.
For an extensive list of upcoming events throughout West Virginia, visit www.wvtourism.com.
Tomblin is governor of West Virginia.