BEDFORD — Tourism is thriving in the Radius Indiana eight-county region, according to a study released Wednesday. The study shows visitor spending totaling $271.6 million, marking a 13 percent increase from the previous year and a regional economic impact of $198 million.
The study compared tourism data during a two-year period for Lawrence, Orange, Crawford, Daviess, Dubois, Greene, Martin and Washington counties and reports that nearly 5,000 area residents are directly employed in tourism, making it the seventh-largest industry in the region.
“Tourism is not only good for the local economy in the Radius region, but also has many other benefits for the community. A booming tourism industry also helps create a healthy job market and puts dollars into our school systems. Moreover, it helps to relieve the tax burden of households in the region,” said Radius Indiana President and CEO Jeff Quyle.
It was the first-ever analysis of the economic impact of tourism for Radius. Commissioned by the Indiana Office of Tourism Development and Radius through Rockport Analytics, it shows the region outpaced the state’s growth in tourism spending by 5 percent and has a nearly 2.5 percent share of overall tourism spending in Indiana.
“The data shows us that 73 cents of every $1 spent on tourism stayed in the local economy and saves our taxpayers about $359 per year in taxes — money that stays in the region stimulates our communities and promotes vitality and growth,” Quyle said.
“It shows that tourism is not only strong here, but it’s growing faster in our region than anywhere else, which is a good story to tell.”
Orange County tops the Radius region with $88,645,200 spent in tourism in 2015. That’s an increase of 17.1 percent over 2014 spending, and it ranks the county 23rd in the state for tourism spending. The study also revealed Orange County is No. 2 in the state in spending per capita.
“The French Lick and West Baden Springs resorts are the gem of the region,” said Joe Timbrook, chief operating officer for Radius. “They’ve transformed how our region looks. They’re extremely important to the area, and you can tell by the numbers what they bring to southern Indiana.”
Not only does the report solidify the importance of tourism to the area, but Misty Weisensteiner, executive director of Visit French Lick/West Baden, believes it will be a tool to springboard tourism into the legislative conversation.
“It’s a way to finally show, through numbers, what we’ve known all along — that tourism is big business, not just in Orange County, but throughout southern Indiana,” Weisensteiner said. “It mainly solidified everything we were thinking, or thought we knew about tourism in our area. It helped getting the numbers from the resorts, too, because those are our anchors, not just for Orange County, but the business the resorts do affect the whole area. We finally have true numbers we can take to the state and say, ‘Look at what our region does for Indiana.’”
Radius facilitates a regional tourism advisory council. Members of the group will use the study to create new initiatives that will support this vital sector of the local economy.
“This region is an asset-rich part of the state and has some of the state’s most important historical sites within just miles of one another. This data will help us to better support the region as we work together to develop tourism strategies for the state,” said Mark Newman, executive director of the Indiana Office of Tourism Development.
When it comes to tourism, visitors don’t see boundaries. Looking at tourism as a regional opportunity benefits all of southern Indiana, Timbrook said.
“We want to tell the story of southern Indiana because it’s a big story to tell,” Timbrook said. “Although Radius is a region of eight counties, it’s not just about this region. It’s bigger than that to us. This is the story of all of southern Indiana. Not only are we the garden spot of Indiana with our natural beauty, but our entertainment options are plentiful.”
In the report, Lawrence County ranked fourth of the eight counties in terms of tourism spending. Visitors pumped $27,911,500 into Lawrence County in 2015 — an increase of 12.7 percent over what was spent in 2014.
Tonya Chastain, executive director of the Lawrence County Tourism Commission, believes the report will promote a more collaborative effort between the various counties in southern Indiana. Already, she said, Lawrence is working with Orange, Washington and Dubois counties on an overnight grist mill tour that will take participants through each county as a way to celebrate the 200th birthday of Spring Mill State Park’s grist mill.
“It opens a lot of eyes in regards to what can we do together, as a region, to promote southern Indiana to visitors,” Chastain said. “This report is groundwork. We can use it to go forward, work together and take a more regionalized approach to tourism and events. I don’t think people realize how many free events are offered in this region that benefit the entire economy.”
The Persimmon Festival, for example, has an annual economic impact of $1.7 million, Timbrook said.
And Chastain pointed out that the Civil War Days at Spring Mill State Park last month brought in 5,000-6,000 people with about 1,200 people each day in the Pioneer Village for the half-hour long battle.
“When people visit, it’s important that very likely they’re stopping at convenience stores, restaurants or getting gas,” Chastain said. “With tourism, everyone gets to share a part of it. ... We often have people who stop in the office on their way to or from French Lick, looking for other opportunities before they leave town. Multiply that by all the counties, and suddenly, you’re looking at a big economic impact. ... That’s what this report is showing us.”
“The next step for us,” Timbrook said, “is how we can use this report to help us let people know southern Indiana should be their destination of choice. We’ve got the foundation. Now, let’s see where we go.”
Radius Indiana is a regional economic development partnership representing eight counties in southern Indiana. Formed in 2009, Radius also serves as a point of contact in Indiana for Naval Support Activity Crane and leads regional collaboration by leveraging the diverse assets of the region to drive attraction, retention and expansion of business, thereby increasing employment and investment opportunities and quality of life within the region.