The silent industry that helps push Alpena’s economy

I don’t normally write in response to questions or comments from the community but today I’m going to go down that path and try to help bring some clarity to one of Alpena’s major industries.

With recent news of two major hospitality companies selecting Alpena as their next location for two brand new hotels the main point of contention I have been hearing is, “that’s great but what about something that actually creates jobs? Like a factory?”

The truth is, tourism is one of our area’s major sources of income. Tourism is a silent industry because it has no building with a sign out by the street. There are no announcements when a visitor crosses the county line. Tourism is a silent industry but is both a direct and indirect economic driver.

One in eight jobs is a result of the tourism industry and for every dollar spent on tourism promotion six are returned. Guests to our community bring in new money. They contribute to the tax base and barely utilize the items or infrastructure supported by the tax base which means we are reaping the benefit exponentially.

Tourism makes certain services available that the local population wouldn’t be able to support on their own. Included in these are festivals, sports and recreation facilities, restaurants, and shopping opportunities. Tourism creates visibility for a community. Often, people who vacation in an area will relocate or move their business to that community because of the enjoyable experiences they had while vacationing.

So what about a factory? Do we all remember what happened to the State of Michigan when the Big 3 automakers tripped? It is critical that a community (and state) have a diversified economic base. We can’t rely on one industry sector to pull the whole load. Like a farmer trying to plow a field in the old days with one horse and a single-bottom plow, it’s going to take him a very long time to get the job done. When he added more horses to the team he was able to get the job done faster and till more soil in the same amount of time.

The recession that we recently crawled out of is a good reminder that we need to add a few more horses to the team that is pulling Alpena into a brighter future. That means diversification of our revenue generating engines.

The tools a community implements to create revenue for its residents need to be varied. Manufacturing is important but so are some other things we haven’t always been so good at supporting in the past.

How big is tourism exactly? If we look at some of the indicators here is what we can see: On average, one of Alpena’s larger hotels books approximately 25,550 rooms nights per year. Let’s say that on average, each room has two people in it (yes, some will have one but some will have four, so let’s just say two on average). We’ll use a moderate economic multiplier and say that each person is spending about $120 per day in ancillary expenditures (meals, shopping, gas, tickets, etc.). So 51,100 people times $120 per day equals about $6.1 million going directly into the community. Let’s keep in mind this is using a conservative estimate based on one hotel.

The amount of $6.1 million worth of new money coming into the community annually from one property is nothing to sneeze at. When a factory moves to town it certainly creates jobs and infuses new money into the community in terms of wages and service needs, and I’m not saying that having more manufacturing isn’t something we need to look at; I’m just trying to demonstrate that the tourism industry is a lot more important to our community than we have historically considered. And at the end of the day, in order for all of this to be successful we have to rely on each other. The work continues to promote Alpena; businesses are taking responsibility to ensure that every customer service interaction across the community is top-notch, and systems are in place to continue the support and cultivation of young entrepreneurs so new services and experience can be added to the mix.

The good news in all of this is that Alpena has turned a corner. We’ve finally come out of our slumber and we have a lot to be excited about. Community leaders are seeking responsible growth opportunities and creating new prospects. A new business like a hotel or Meijer isn’t going to invest millions of dollars into a new building if they don’t see that same evidence that Alpena is a blossoming community. This is a time for all of us to be proud to call Alpena home.

Mary Beth Stutzman’s Inspiring A-Town runs bi-weekly on Tuesdays. Follow Mary Beth on Twitter @mbstutz.