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Our View: Area is quickly becoming tourist destination

Figures recently released showed some astounding numbers when it comes to local tourism.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, 2012 traveler spending in St. Croix County increased 8.87 percent to $81 million!

According to an annual analysis released May 3, the $81 million from travelers resulted in total business sales of $139.5 million in the county, reflecting an 8.36 percent increase from 2011. This spending supported an estimated 1,631 jobs (+2.96 percent from 2011) in St. Croix County and generated $10.5 million in state and local tax revenues (+6.10 percent from 2011).

It wasn't too many years ago, tourism was sort of an afterthought unless it involved an area like the Wisconsin Dells, Door County or the big cities of Milwaukee and Madison. These latest numbers underscore the fact that tourism is a large part of the economy across the entire state. In fact, tourism is one of Wisconsin's top three industries along with manufacturing and agriculture.

Statewide, travelers spent an estimated $10.4 billion in 2012, a 4.7 percent increase from 2011. Total business sales from tourist were estimated at $16.79 billion. Tourism and traveler-supported employment in Wisconsin in 2012 was estimated at 183,786 jobs (+1.36 percent from 2011). Tourism impacted the state with tax revenues of $1.312 billion in 2012 (+3.35 percent increase from 2011).

St. Croix, Polk, Pierce, and Dunn counties comprise the Greater St. Croix Valley. Visitor spending in 2012 for the four-county region was estimated at $221.8 million, compared to $206.4 million in 2011 (+ 7.46 percent increase). Visitor and traveler spending in Polk for 2012 increased to $73.3 million (+5.69 percent from 2011). Spending in Dunn County increased 4.63 percent to $41.0 million and Pierce County had a 13.43 percent increase to $26.5 million.

What studies are showing is that the Greater St. Croix Valley's proximity to the 13-county Twin Cities metro area means many visitors enjoy day trips to the valley.

Total business sales from travelers and visitors to the Greater St. Croix Valley in 2012 was estimated at 366.2 million compared to 342.6 million in 2011 (+6.89 percent increase). Business sales in St. Croix County were estimated at $139.5 million, followed by $109.5 million in Polk, $70.6 million in Dunn, and $46.6 million in Pierce.

Tourism-related employment in the Greater St. Croix Valley for 2012 was estimated at 3,880 jobs. In addition to the 1,631 jobs in St. Croix, there were 1,015 in Polk (+2.18 percent from 2011); 833 in Dunn (+1.72 percent increase); and 406 in Pierce (-1.35 percent decline).

State and local tax revenues attributable to visitors and travelers in the Greater St. Croix Valley in 2012 were estimated at $26.9 million, including tax revenues in St. Croix County estimated at $10.5 million.

Milwaukee is the state's top county for visitor spending with $1.64 billion. The other counties in the top 10 include Dane ($971 million in visitor spending); Sauk ($857 million); Waukesha ($631 million); Brown ($551 million); Walworth ($455 million); Door ($289 million); Outagamie ($286 million); Marathon ($217 million); and Racine ($209 million).

Obviously St. Croix County isn't nearing the top 10 just yet, but the growing tourism industry in St. Croix County and the valley shows that our area is truly a destination spot for tourism. The numbers are quite impressive!