When discussing the term industry within Arkansas’ First Congressional District, it can bring all sorts of images to mind.
Some people may think of the rapidly-expanding steel mills in the northeast corner. Others may point to the myriad of job-creating manufacturing plants peppered across the district. Perhaps even more think of agriculture and its far-reaching impacts from just south of the Missouri border to just north of Louisiana.
Meanwhile, it’s easy to forget about an industry that added nearly $6 billion last year to the state’s economy. This same industry contributed more than $311 million in state taxes and $113 million in local taxes, all while directly employing more than 59,000 Arkansans.
Without a doubt, tourism is an industry all to itself in Arkansas. Each year, our state sees more than 20 million travelers within its borders; travelers all ready to see and experience why we call Arkansas, The Natural State.
The addition of tourists within the First District brings several noted improvements to our region. First, as a primarily rural district, tourism diversifies our communities’ economic bases, expanding them in new and creative ways unreached by traditional industries. Secondly, it helps our communities get noticed through positive outside press and publicity. Many First District attractions and events have expanded to national and worldwide fame from media outlets profiling their unique offerings. Thirdly, tourism promotes a local sense of pride and togetherness, often involving entire communities to showcase the best of what they have to offer. Fourthly, tourism preserves cultures and traditions all while educating onlookers. Whether it’s traditional artisan skills, dress, songs, or stories, these time-honored ways of life get passed on for future generations to appreciate and enjoy. Lastly, tourism has a huge indirect effect, attracting outside businesses and industries. Many retail outlets and services, manufacturers, restaurants, and financial institutions come to areas with a strong tourism base. These businesses pour even more dollars and support even more jobs in local communities; all because tourism drew them there.
I recently had the opportunity to participate in a week promoting tourism efforts in the First District. I had some amazing experiences during the week, touring both manmade and natural landmarks. However, my favorite take-away from the week involved interacting with local folks along the way.
First District residents take pride in their respective communities, but they’re also keenly aware that tourism plays a big role in maintaining it. At each stop, we talked about their tourism successes as well as the struggles they face on a daily basis. Still, one thing remained firm at every location, despite these challenges: resolve and hard work to keep the industry alive and well.
That commitment is the heart of Arkansas tourism, and it will continue to pump a strong pulse so 20 million more travelers next year will know why they should see the same sights I saw and more in The Natural State.