|Centre Daily Times, State College,
Pa.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
April 12, 2011--Maybe it's Pennsylvania's deep heritage as an agricultural and industrial state, but one of the key drivers of the commonwealth's economy is often overlooked.
Tourism is the state's seventh largest employer and generates $33 billion in sales statewide, including $516 million in Centre County, according to the most recent data from the state Tourism Office. The industry also contributes $3.4 billion in state and local tax revenue.
So, it is somewhat puzzling that state spending on tourism promotion not only declined slowly during the Rendell administration, it would take a whopping 70 percent cut under Gov. Tom Corbett's proposed 2011-12 budget.
Tourists -- whether out of state or Pennsylvanians traveling to instate venues -- buy gas, eat in restaurants, shop and stay in hotels, to name only a few examples of where their dollars are spent.
In addition to full-time employees, tourism is also a good source of seasonal jobs for college and high school students -- employment that is basically a must these days for any student from a middle- class family trying to afford higher education.
Of course, "recreation'' and "entertainment'' are key subcomponents of tourism, and that certainly is the case in Centre County. If visitors aren't actually participants themselves in the form of hunting, fishing, camping, hiking or other outdoor activities in our bucolic mountain setting, they are attending events like a Penn State football game, a concert at the Bryce Jordan Center or the Centre County Grange Encampment and Fair.
All of this brings us to two major local developments in recent weeks -- the opening of Penn State's $10.2 million Nittany Lion Softball Park, and several key steps taken by the Centre Region Council of Governments toward three regional parks that have been on the drawing board for a decade.
The 1,084-seat Penn State softball complex will be more than a beautiful new playpen for the Lions and their Big Ten foes; it will also attract state high school championships, state playoff games and major amateur tournaments. These events will bring players and fans who will shop, dine and travel around the area.
Although not on as grand a scale, but probably of greater personal interest for most local residents, are the COG's approval of a master site plan for the John Hess Softball Complex; the addition of a fourth softball field to the site plan for Oak Hall Regional Complex; and a first-phase development timeline for Whitehall Road Regional Park.
While these parks are primarily intended for local use, do not underestimate the attraction of new fields and amenities for tournaments that are highly popular among girls and adult softball leagues. These teams travel long distances from within Pennsylvania and even out of state to compete in what are often weekend-long tournaments that include entry fees, and whose players and families require lodging, food, and, well, you get the idea.
In all likelihood, the new Penn State complex and three regional parks will easily pay for themselves, and contribute significantly to the local economy.
But it's also important to remember that tourism and recreational investments go beyond dollars and cents, particularly in the case of the three regional parks being developed.
"... Forty to 50 years from now there will be people enjoying those fields, and they won't have to think too much about how they got there,'' said College Township Councilman Dan Klees, chairman of the COG Parks Capital Committee.
Yes, they should provide great personal enjoyment for many children and their families for a long time, as well as anybody who just enjoys watching a good ballgame. You can't put a price tag on that.
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Copyright (c) 2011, Centre Daily Times, State College, Pa.
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