KOKOMO - Results from a recent study released by the Greater Kokomo Visitors Bureau show that tourism has in recent years had a growing economic impact on Kokomo and Howard County.
The visitors bureau, which commissioned the economic impact study on tourism and travel, reported that the impact of travelers on the local area has grown since a previous study completed in 2013.
The study, conducted by Lexington, Kentucky-based Certec Inc., found that visitors to Kokomo and Howard County contributed $135.4 million to the county's economy in 2016, according to a press release.
Of that total, direct expenditures by visitors accounted for $97 million, a 15 percent increase from the 2013 study period.
The spending came from roughly 1.3 million destination and pass-through travelers in Howard County in 2016, according to the study. Primary expenditures went toward food and beverage, shopping and lodging purchases, reported the Greater Kokomo Visitors Bureau.
Effectively, "economic benefits of tourism begin when a traveler to Howard County, either an Indiana resident or an out-of-state visitor, spends money in the county," reads the visitors bureau release about the study.
And while survey sampling showed that the area's strongest state market was Indiana, Howard County drew visitors from 18 states, according to visitors bureau officials.
In total, Howard County saw more than 442,000 pass-through visitors and nearly 866,000 destination visitors.
Certec, which specializes in destination research and market analysis, collected data through tourism business surveys and on-site visitor surveys conducted earlier this year.
“We conducted this study as an effort to quantify the magnitude of the economic impact of the tourism and travel industry on the community,” said Charlie Sparks, president and CEO of the Greater Kokomo Economic Development Alliance, in the release.
“Tourism has significant impact on the local economy. It creates new jobs, supports area businesses and increases demand for goods and services related to travel and hospitality.”
The study found that a total of 1,541 jobs in Howard County resulted from the tourism industry, an increase from the 1,404 jobs cited in the 2013 study. It also found that more than one-third of the jobs created were in "high-wage occupations," but did not provide a dollar amount in defining the term.
Overall, tourism-generated jobs reportedly provided nearly $27.2 million in wages in 2016 to Howard County workers.
“These study results show that it is imperative for the visitors bureau to continue promoting Kokomo and Howard County as an ideal destination for visitors, conference and event organizers, and pass-through travelers,” Sparks said.
Sherry Matlock, manager of the Greater Kokomo Visitors Bureau, cited the area's historical significance and its various areas of growth when addressing the increased impact of tourism on Kokomo and Howard County.
“Kokomo and Howard County has the best of both worlds in terms of attractions,” Matlock said in the release. “Our community has preserved its rich automotive and glass manufacturing history as well as added modern attractions and amenities of importance to today’s travelers.
"With a thriving downtown, museum and recreational activities, a growing foodie and craft beer movement, and a variety of accommodations, Kokomo is well-poised to pull down even greater results in the next impact study.”
Another way local officials hope to impact tourism figures is through the construction of a downtown hotel and conference center.
The proposed project - which has yet to be officially announced but has been at the center of various public discussions - could bring conventions, conferences or other events to downtown Kokomo.
Most recently, Howard County officials included in their 2018 budget economic development funding for the Howard County Board of Commissioners, a portion of which is expected to be committed to the oft-discussed downtown hotel and conference center project.
During an interview, Commissioner Paul Wyman also acknowledged the inclusion of the Kokomo Automotive Museum in the project’s ongoing plans. The museum, which is under contract in its current location until May, has long been rumored as a potential tenant in a downtown conference center.
“It’s a $22 million project, and $14 million of it is coming from the private developer,” Wyman explained. “The remainder is coming from the [Convention and Visitors Bureau], the city, the county and then the automotive museum guys will be putting a little bit in with a capital campaign.”
About the project itself, Wyman said in early September that the planning process has reached its final stages.
“We’re in final negotiations with the developer, and so on our end we’ve got all of our pieces put together,” he said. “I think as a community we’re putting a great foot forward to show the developer we want to do this project in Kokomo and Howard County.”
In July, a specific "proposed hotel/conference center project," shown in the block between Main and Union streets north of Wildcat Creek, was addressed by Sparks during a population-growth summit at Indiana University Kokomo.
Sparks explained that preliminary plans show the hotel on the east side of the property, along Union Street, with the conference center to thee west, along Main Street. The north end of the property is bordered by Superior Street.
PowerPoint slides presented by Sparks at the meeting laid out specifications about the potential project.
One slide explains that 125 guestrooms are proposed within the hotel. The conference center, according to the slide, would encompass 12,000 square feet.
The slide also notes the proposed inclusion of an “American Grill” restaurant; a pavilion lounge/bar; a business center; an exercise room; and an indoor pool. Another slide indicates that the hotel would include five levels, with an optional expansion of 40 additional rooms.
The hotel restaurant and bar is shown at the corner of Union and Superior streets.
The conference center, according to the proposed project’s site plan, would include a 500-seat ballroom, with a bridge, or second, level, and an optional 7,600-square-foot expansion.
Notably, 88 spaces of on-site parking would be provided, according to Sparks’ presentation.