Op-ed: Tourism, arts and culture are important economic engines

In MassLive 7/27/15

As we enter the dog days of summer and start packing our bags for family vacations, it's a good time to remember all the great attractions that we have right in our backyard. From Six Flags to the Quabbin Reservoir, from Yankee Candle to the Basketball Hall of Fame, the Pioneer Valley has some of the most popular destinations in New England.

These attractions are more than just a fun place to spend the day; they help make up Massachusetts' third largest industry, employing 130,000 people and producing $18 billion in revenue a year.

For this reason, I was eager to be appointed Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts & Cultural Development, which is responsible for overseeing and supporting such a vital segment of the Commonwealth's economy.

Tourism, arts and culture is especially important to our economy here in Western Massachusetts. Every year, thousands of people visit Hampden and Hampshire Counties for work, vacation, or family. Tourism­ related employment in our region alone totals nearly 5,000 people, with a payroll of more than $120 million annually. Direct spending by travelers in our region is over $500 million, resulting in over $11 million for our local communities. And with the MGM Casino, the new Dr. Seuss Museum, and the opening of new rides at Six Flags New England, not to mention the renovation of Springfield's Union Station with new rail service, we can only expect that number to grow.

But our ability to attract visitors and the dollars they bring with them is not something we can take for granted. We've all seen the billboards as we drive along I­91 inviting us to ski resorts in Vermont and casinos in Connecticut. Our neighboring states are competing hard for tourism and culture dollars, and if we don't keep up, we risk falling behind, and losing a lot of economic opportunity in the process.

That's why my committee worked to secure millions of dollars in new resources for our tourism and culture economy. In this year's budget, we increased funds for the promotion of local attractions like Bright Nights and the Dr. Seuss Sculpture Garden. I also collaborated with my colleagues in the House and Senate to secure a multi­million dollar increase for the Massachusetts Cultural Council, which supports local institutions like the Community Music School, the Enchanted Circle Theater, the Quadrangle Museums and the emerging Springfield Cultural District.

These initiatives add vibrancy to our region and attract more visitors to our area. And when it comes to tourism, arts and cultural development, the investment more than pays for itself. According to the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau, every dollar spent on tourism promotion can produce a seven dollar return on investment. That's because visitors do more than just stop our attractions, they also eat at our local restaurants, stay in our local hotels, and shop in our local stores.

So as we get out and enjoy our summer vacations, let's also keep in mind how important all the attractions are right in our own backyard, and what an important role they play in creating jobs and driving our local economy. Eric Lesser is State Senator for the First Hampden & Hampshire District.

Op-edEric Lesser