Gov. John Kasich agreed that Ohio needed more firepower to go up against actor Tim Allen and his “Pure Michigan” commercials.
Kasich spoke Thursday at the Pro Football Hall of Fame to tout the benefits of his JobsOhio 2 bill, which among several things provides an unconventional funding mechanism for the state to possibly spend significantly more to promote Ohio’s and Stark County’s tourist industries.
Kasich signed the bill into law June 26, nearly two weeks after it overwhelmingly passed the Ohio General Assembly. He held a signing ceremony for the bill at the Rock and Roll Hall of Museum in Cleveland Thursday morning. The new law revamps the state’s current tourism office, turning it into the TourismOhio office, which will be overseen by a board of state tourism industry experts appointed by the governor.
It will start with a budget of about $5 million a year, in comparison with the $4.5 million to $6.8 million a year the state’s old tourism office got in past years, said Michael Evans, the director of government affairs for the Ohio Hotels & Lodging Association.
But TourismOhio’s funding each year would be boosted to up to $10 million by any amount of increased sales tax revenue collected in Ohio, adjusted for inflation, that’s attributed to a growth in tourism spending the prior year.
The mechanism doesn’t put any more strain on the current state budget, and it gives an incentive to the tourism office to ensure its marketing efforts yield results. The law requires an annual “return-on-investment” study be done on the new agency’s spending. The funding mechanism ends in five years, and state officials will have to review whether to continue it or alter it.
While no growth in revenue is guaranteed, Evans said the state could leverage any additional tourism money by bulk buying ad space to provide lower advertising rates for small Ohio tourism businesses like a family bed and breakfast. She said the strategy is to focus on attracting visitors from other Midwestern states and avoid the high costs of a national campaign.
KEY KASICH SUPPORT
“This is going to benefit this hall (the Pro Football Hall of Fame). There’s no question about it. Because now we can begin to appropriately promote it,” Kasich said to about 125 local Republican officials, Hall of Fame employees and tourism industry executives,
He added that state tourism assets like Lake Erie often aren’t marketed effectively enough. “Now we’re just not going to give them more money because they want more money. They’re going to have to prove that they’re making progress,” Kasich said. “This is an incentive-based program that is without any doubt going to mean that Ohio is going to have more dollars to tell people about the exciting things that are happening in
“We have … fantastic attractions right here in Stark County,” said John Kiste, the executive director of the Canton/Stark County Convention & Visitors’ Bureau. “But you can’t get folks to come to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. You can’t get out-of-state guests to come to the First Ladies’ national historic site or the McKinley Monument and the presidential museum if you can’t first get them into Ohio.”
LONG LOBBYING EFFORT
As early as 2004, Kiste was calling for a doubling of Ohio’s tourism marketing budget to compete with other states. But with tight budgets, that seemed unlikely to occur.
Phil Craig, the executive director of the Ohio Association of Convention & Visitor Bureaus, said he and others have lobbied for some version of the new funding mechanism for the state’s tourism office for about six years, as Ohio’s surrounding states ramped up their tourism marketing spending up to anywhere from $18 million to $30 million a year. However, he said the administrations of former governors Bob Taft and Ted Strickland were resistant to altering the current sales tax system.
He said Kasich on taking office and his then-assistant state tourism director Amir Eylon were immediately receptive to the concept. Kasich’s office incorporated it into its JobsOhio 2 bill and along with Ohio House Republican leaders recruited State Rep. Christina Hagan, R-Marlboro Township, and State Rep. Mike Dovilla, R-Berea, to champion the House version of the bill. Both spoke at the Thursday event.
Hagan said in an interview she attended meetings where Eylon talked about how TourismOhio would use the funding to raise the profile of its “Ohio – too much fun for just one day” campaign and seek to woo business professionals in the Midwest to spend weekend vacations in Ohio.
She told the Hall of Fame audience, “when the state invests one dollar in tourism related industries and we see a $14 return, we ought to be doing a lot more of it.”
Separately, Kasich talked about provisions in JobsOhio 2 that eliminate or soften requirements that state councils approve loans, tax credits or grants in economic development packages. The bill’s supporters say this means businesses that are considering relocating to Ohio will get faster approvals.
“We don’t have a whole lot of time to fill out forms and deal with the bureaucracy and deal with the run around,” said Kasich. “Give us an answer, ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ … if we’re not giving business a clear road map in terms of our relationship with them they’re going to go somewhere else.”
Also in attendance at Kasich’s event were: Stark County Commissioner Janet Weir Creighton; North Canton Mayor David Held; Stark County Republican Party Chairman Jeff Matthews; Plain Township Trustee Scott M. Haws; former Congressman Ralph Regula; his wife Mary Regula, the president and founder of the National First Ladies’ Library and Steve Perry, the president and executive director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.