Local tourism valued at $33M

FAIRMONT — In 2015, tourism in Martin County generated $33 million in gross sales, $2 million in state sales tax and was responsible for more than 800 jobs in the private sector.

According to Explore Minnesota, the state’s tourism arm, the average traveler spends only 21 percent on lodging, with the rest of the funds spent on gas, food, retail and recreation.

Members of the Fairmont Economic Development Authority expressed surprise at the level of local tourism when Stephanie Busiahn, director of the Convention & Visitors Bureau, shared this information Monday.

“On an average year, we see about 80,000 people come through our hotels,” she said. “We have a great hospitality exit at (Interstate) exit 102.”

Busiahn asked FEDA to invest $5,000 to participate in a University of Minnesota Tourism Center study that would be geared exclusively to Fairmont and Martin County. The university would send personnel to gather 350 to 400 surveys from visitors to the area by asking brief questions about why they are visiting, and garner information about recreation and accommodations. The information would provide a comprehensive visitor profile and an understanding of characteristics and spending patterns.

Busiahn said a colleague of hers from Grand Rapids told her that community is successful in using information it amassed during a similar study 10 years ago.

“We need solid data to effectively market our community — not just as a place to visit, but also for a wide range of other economic development objectives,” she said. “This will set us apart from other communities. In order for us to successfully move ahead as far as tourism in Fairmont and Martin County, we need this information.”

When FEDA members mentioned that Fairmont’s lakes are a big draw, Busiahn pointed out that only three counties in Minnesota do not have lakes.

“Our lakes are an asset for citizens, but not for visitors,” she said, pointing out there are no public marinas, campgrounds or resorts on the lakes.

The total cost of the university’s survey runs about $25,000, but Busiahn is looking at grant opportunities to pay the balance.

“It’s a win-win,” she said. “This information will be invaluable to us and to FEDA. No one is going to relocate themselves, their family or their business without visiting here first.”

The board tabled the $5,000 request until its March 12 meeting, when all members are expected to be present.

In other business, the board:

o Heard from Linsey Preuss, economic development director, of her plans to apply for a state grant to pay for half of about $500,000 in infrastructure costs on land southwest of Interstate exit 99. The city holds an option on the land, and expanding sewer, water and electricity to the site will impact 37 acres around the site, making it attractive for commercial development.

o Reviewed the analytics from the fourth quarter of 2017 from Golden Shovel, the company that administers FEDA’s website. The data showed 454 visitors, including 301 new ones, to the site. Visitors to the site were from eight different countries and 10 different states.