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Kleefisch visit focuses on Travel Green


Industry brings billions to Wisconsin



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STATE SEN. NEAL KEDZIE (left) and Walworth's Bob Klockars (right) spend a few minutes with Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch at the Grand Geneva last Friday morning. Kleefisch spoke for about 10 minutes to a small gathering of local chamber leaders and business people. She visited with Kedzie and Klockars after her speech.

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May 18, 2011 | 09:10 AM
Lyons — Surrounded by lush green grass, blooming flowers, budding trees and fresh ponds, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch was in the perfect place to tout Wisconsin's Travel Green initiative.

On Friday morning, Kleefisch stood at a podium outside the main Grand Geneva Resort building with the Brute golf course as the backdrop, talking to local business people, area Chamber of Commerce members and elected officials about tourism in the state, which is a $12.3 billion industry, including $414 million alone in Walworth County.

"I think that is something worth applauding," Kleefisch announced to a small crowd of local stakeholders.

She said despite the recession, it appears as though the travel and tourism industry is starting to recover. In 2010, she said tourism was up 1.8 percent statewide.

But, she also was quick to talk about Travel Green Wisconsin, an initiative she said will set Wisconsin apart in environmental travel and tourism. She said local businesses in the Lake Geneva area, including the Grand Geneva, have grabbed onto the Travel Green concept.

Travel Green Wisconsin falls into the spirit of the state's heritage of environmental stewardship.

It was created in 2006 to promote environmentally-friendly business practices and is the first state-sponsored sustainable tourism certification in the nation, and it has become a model for sustainable travel efforts throughout the country, Kleefisch said.

According to the Travel Green Wisconsin website, applicants must practice communication, education, waste reduction, reuse, recycling, energy efficiency, water conservation, air quality, wildlife landscape conservation and transportation.

Kleefisch said Wisconsin has long had roots in environmental efforts and mentioned names such as John Muir, Aldo Leopold and Gaylord Nelson.

She said she believes more travelers will look for green options as they make their own lives more green in nature.

"Wisconsin is done being a hidden gem," Kleefisch said. "We don't want to hide any more."

Kleefisch's visit to Lake Geneva late last week was part of a trip around Wisconsin focusing on state tourism and was in conjunction with National Tourism week. She said she had been traveling the state from "corner to corner" and was excited to be in the Lake Geneva area.

"I am thankful to all those entrepreneurs who make our tourism go," Kleefisch said.

Kleefisch spent the night in the Lake Geneva area on Thursday following a dinner with local dignitaries. She left the area Friday morning after her 10-minute speech at the Grand Geneva. Among those in attendance during the Friday morning speech were Lake Geneva Mayor Jim Connors, Lake Geneva Area Chamber of Commerce Director George Hennerley, State Sen. Neal Kedzie, Walworth County Board Chairwoman Nancy Russell and State Rep. Steve Nass. Others included those from the Walworth County Convention and Visitor's Bureau, the Lake Geneva Convention and Visitor's Bureau and staff and management from the Grand Geneva Resort.

MONETARY IMPACT OF TOURISM

In Lake Geneva, 2,400 jobs are directly dependant on tourism. That makes up a good portion of all the tourism jobs in Walworth County.

It was estimated that in 2010, travelers spent $414.2 million in the county on food, lodging, shopping, recreation and transportation. That was an increase from 2009 of nearly $405 million.

According to the Walworth County Visitors Bureau, those expenditures impacted employment with an estimated 7,715 full-time equivalent jobs supported by tourism in Walworth County. The total number of jobs directly supported by visitor expenditures was 5,897.

Many of the city's 2,400 jobs are in the downtown, which in the last few years has seen an increase in assessed valuation, according to Geneva Lake Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director George Hennerley.

"The real benefit is to employment and increased assessed value," Hennerley said.

In 2002, the city's Business Improvement District was assessed at $91 million. In 2009, it was assessed at $120 million, a 32 percent increase and an indication of the city's downtown success, according to Hennerley.

That's not all that tourism brings to the city.

Money spent in Lake Geneva, specifically from hotel rooms, parking and beach use adds to the city's bottom line to the tune of about $1.5 million in revenue.

"Those are the positives that come from the tourism industry," Hennerley said.

However, tourism does lead to increased expenditures on items such as police and road improvements that similar sized cities without the amount of tourism Lake Geneva don't have to spend.

Both the cities of Elkhorn and Delavan spend less than Lake Geneva on police services despite higher populations. According to 2006 Wisconsin Taxpayer Alliance study, Elkhorn with a population of about 8,000 had 16 officers and spent $1.5 million for police services, while Delavan with a population of 8,340, had 17 officers and spent $1.9 million on police.

According to the 2006 numbers, the city of Lake Geneva spent $2.4 million annually on police services and had 20 officers for the 7,500 population that was reported at that time. By comparison, Oconomowoc, a city about twice the size of Lake Geneva, as of 2006, spent $2.6 million on police and had 22 officers.

In Walworth County, there are 50,000 housing units and 21 percent of them are second homes, Hennerley said.

"That's significant because they generate a lot of property taxes and they aren't adding to the schools," Hennerley said.

In 2010, only a handful of counties had higher tourism expenditure numbers than Walworth County. Those included Brown, Dane, Milwaukee, Sauk and Waukesha counties.

"I encourage local residents to be tourists in their own towns," Hennerley said. "We have great amenities here."
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