Governor John Kasich gave his State of the State address in Sandusky at 7 pm on Tuesday, April 4 at the Sandusky State Theatre. By the time he took to the podium, state lawmakers had already had a full day of learning more about the importance of the travel economy in Ohio.
CEDAR POINT HOSTS LAWMAKERS
The day’s festivities began with a welcome luncheon for members of the 132nd Ohio General Assembly in the Cedar Point Ballroom. Speakers included Cedar Point Vice President and General Manager Jason McClure, Majority Floor Leader Senator Randy Gardner, Representative Steve Arndt, Cedar Fair CEO Matt Ouimet, President of the Catawba Island Club Jim Stouffer, Senate President Larry Obhof and Chairman of the House Finance Committee Representative, Ryan Smith.
In addition to statements recognizing the importance of protecting Lake Erie, speakers also emphasized the importance of travel to the Sandusky region as well as to the state of Ohio.
Senate President Obhof said “No matter where you go in Ohio, there are some pretty great things going on. Whether it’s going to one of the wineries in northeast Ohio, rolling hills in the southeast, parks throughout the state, some of the top museums anywhere in the country ... and here we’ve got some of the top roller coasters in the United States."
“This is one of the things that makes Ohio such a great state. It’s a great place to live. It’s a great place to work, but it’s also a great place to play.”
Ouimet emphasized the vital role Cedar Fair has played in not only bringing visitor spending and tax revenue to the state, but also in being a leader in economic development efforts. “I hope it is equally clear that Cedar Fair believes in Ohio. We’ve invested more than $250 million over the last few years and supported three different tax increases to grow the economy, improve our schools and enhance the quality of life in our surrounding communities.”
Following the luncheon, lawmakers took a boat ride on the Jet Express where they got to learn more about the lake and its impact on the economy.
TOURISM DISCUSSION FOCUSES ON COLLABORATION
An afternoon panel hosted by TourismOhio at the Sandusky Yacht Club featured Fletcher, Ouimet, ODNR Director Jim Zehringer, Sandusky City Manager Eric Wobser, Ohio Department of Taxation Commissioner Joe Testa, Kalahari Resorts General Manager Brian Shanle and Ohio Development Services Agency Director David Goodman. TourismOhio Chief Mary Cusick moderated the discussion.
The discussion focused on collaboration and included Fletcher describing the intent and successful strategy to form the Lake Erie Shores and Islands brand and marketing efforts through collaboration between the visitors bureaus in Erie and Ottawa counties. “It just made sense from a consumer standpoint,” he said. “We needed to look at our area the way visitors do, and they don’t see county lines.” Lake Erie Shores and Islands collaborates with one marketing committee and message, but it operates with two separate boards and budgets.
Testa shared the significant power of the travel economy, “It is vibrant and contributing.” He went on to say that travel is a significant contributor to Ohio. Travel-related income taxes have increased by 19% over the last four years. “Relative to different industries, travel and tourism is a significant one,” he said.
“People want to visit places where they want to live,” said Wobser. Building on lessons he learned through his economic development work in Ohio City, Wobser explained that when communities invest in their assets, such as bike trails and attractions, they create those drivers that attract both visitors and residents. “We should be an accelerator,” he said when speaking of the importance of working with local leaders to define and implement economic development.
Fletcher agreed, “If not for visitors, your favorite restaurant or place to shop may not be there. Many places depend on visitors to your community to help sustain the quality of life that we all expect.”
Cedar Point believes in investing in assets that are compelling, and Ouimet mentioned the new sports park as an example of an investment that will produce revenue not just for Cedar Point, but for restaurants, hotels, shops and other businesses in the community. He also emphasized the importance of working with your local community.
“We are only as good as the community that surrounds us,” he said.
Cedar Point worked with the City of Sandusky to ensure that recent small tax increases were used not for stop-gap budget measures, but for economic development and investments in the future.
Goodman said it’s about creating partnership and not seeking handouts. “You can’t succeed in an area that’s not thriving.” He talked about a recent state investment in a property that was enroute to Cedar Point. “We want people to see bright spots not blight spots.”
Shanle talked about the value of travel jobs, stating that Kalahari has 60 salaried employees and promoted 21 people into management positions last year alone.
The state’s investment in improving its state parks was also mentioned. Zehringer said Ohio State Parks is one of only seven park districts in the nation with free admission which makes keeping up with maintenance and upgrades difficult. The state recently made a large investment to upgrading its state parks and the result is an increase in both visitation and satisfaction.
The panel wrapped up by identifying some of the top things that could be done to enhance travel. Suggestions included keeping up with trends, increasing parity with various travel-related taxes, ensuring that the tax code is business-friendly, adjusting the school calendar to ensure students get valuable work experience and income, and ensuring TourismOhio has what it needs to be competitive.
RECEPTION PROVIDES PLENTY OF NETWORKING WITH LAWMAKERS
Topping off the day’s activities before the governor actually took to the stage were two receptions. In addition to a reception hosted by the City of Sandusky and Cedar Fair, the Ohio Travel Association (OTA) joined Lake Erie Shores and Islands, the Ohio Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus (OACVB), Ohio Hotel & Lodging Association (OHLA), Erie County Chamber of Commerce, Erie County Economic Development Corporation and the Ottawa County Improvement Corporation in hosting a reception at Small City Taphouse. More than 200 lawmakers and delegates attended the event. Informal talks continued about the value of the travel economy to the state.