The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

June 25, 2008

Doing the math: Tourism’s paychecks are small but written with ‘fresh’ money

By CARL E. FEATHER - Lifestyle Editor - cfeather@starbeacon.com

Tourism is touted as the new up-and-coming industry in Ashtabula County, a quadripartite savior with wineries, the lodge, Lake Erie and covered bridges for legs.

Wages related to tourism in Ashtabula County totaled $88.4 million in 2005, according to a study done for Ashtabula County and the Ohio Division of Travel and Tourism. The research firm, Rovelstad & Associates and Longwoods International, calculated 5,600 full-time equivalent jobs directly linked to tourism.

Do the math: that’s $15,785 on average per job, or $7.89 per hour, assuming a 40-hour week and 50 weeks of employment per year (two weeks of vacation).

If this statistically average tourism employee has a child, that child would be eligible for a free school lunches.

Mark Winchell, executive director of the Ashtabula County Convention and Visitors Bureau, says it’s difficult to come up with an accurate picture of what tourism pays. Many of the jobs are seasonal; others, including his position, pay a flat salary. In general, however, the owners and managers of the tourism businesses are going to make the higher wages, while the servers and housekeeping staff workers will bring home the small checks. According to Department of Labor statistics, accommodation and food service workers earned an average of just $185 a week (tips not included) in 2005.

Although the wages aren’t great, Bill LaFayette, economist at the Columbus Chamber of Commerce, says tourism does have one significant benefit to a community: It brings in fresh dollars.

“You have to look beyond just the perception of the jobs,” he says. “You have to look at the fact tourism brings dollars into the local economy that were not there before. You aren’t just circulating the same money in the economy.”

The previously cited report noted that tourism in Ashtabula County had an indirect impact of 2,600 jobs with $66.9 million in wages.

Ashtabula City Manager Anthony Cantagallo is a proponent of tourism and its benefits to the community. (His wife owns a bed and breakfast.) Anecdotally, from working at the B&B;, Cantagallo knows the 22 Ashtabula County wineries are a significant draw for the tourists. He also knows that even the most dedicated oenophile eventually tires of wine and wants a different diversion — typically, shopping.

Cantagallo envisions Ashtabula’s downtown district and Bridge Street evolving into upscale, tourist-driven, multicultural, retail experiences similar to Ontario’s Niagara-on-the-Lake. He says it won’t happen overnight but feels the basic framework is in place to make it happen.

LaFayette says that, although economic development is outside the realm of his expertise, he believes a community needs to build its industry upon existing strengths. If that means tourism, then the private and public sectors need to come together to work out the best ways to develop and promote that industry.

“You got to dance with who brought you,” Cantagallo says.