Mary Beth Rettke, Tourism Director

A local tourism official disagrees with First District County Commissioner Tim Brinker’s recent suggestion that the county use tourism funds to hire an economic development director.

Mary Beth Rettke, director of tourism for the Washington Area Chamber of Commerce, said she is not going to debate the need for a county economic development director. But she said county tourism funding should remain in place.

“Leave it alone,” Rettke added. “We need the support of the county if we’re going to continue receiving state grant money.”

Tourism generates significant revenue for the county, she added.

“One of the things Tim doesn’t talk about is the economic impact of tourism on Franklin County,” Rettke said.

Brinker recently said that he did not know if it was the county’s role to spend money for tourism purposes. A better use of that money could be hiring an economic development director for the county, Brinker said.

Since making his comments, Brinker said it appears the county does not spend that much on tourism anyway. Ideally, he said he would like to see the county have an economic development/tourism director some day.

Brinker said he has also been approached by constituents to implement a bed tax to support tourism. But he said that would require legislative action.

Rettke said she was concerned that Brinker appeared to see a separation between economic development and tourism.

“Whenever you’re stimulating the economy with tourism dollars, how is that not economic development?” Rettke asked.

She quoted figures from the Missouri Department of Tourism that show $118.5 million was spent in Franklin County on tourism-related activities in fiscal year 2012, which ran between July 1, 2011, and June 30, 2012.

That could be money spent on restaurants, lodging and tourist attractions, she said. She noted that those figures do not even include the wineries or agri-tourism, such as pumpkin patches and tree farms.

Also, tourism was a big source of employment during that time, accounting for 3,498 jobs in Franklin County, Rettke said.

Tourism Spending

The county has spent a total of $20,800 for a special publication in Missouri Life magazine in 2012 and 2013. But the county has been reimbursed $15,000 by cities and local tourist attractions.

In 2012, the county completed its second tourism brochure and sent it across the state. Half of the brochure was paid for by the state, and municipalities and businesses listed in the publication also helped with the cost, she said.

Rettke said the county paid to mail the brochure, which includes a map, information on attractions and Civil War sites.

About 30,000 of the brochures are produced, Rettke said, noting that a condition of the state grant is that 85 percent of the brochures must go beyond a 50-mile radius of the county.

This year, the county has budgeted $32,934 into an economic development/tourism fund. Of that, $10,000 is for the Missouri Life magazine advertising that the county is reimbursed for, and another $10,000 is to set up a tourism/economic development website.

On the Map

The county’s planning and zoning department helps with the administration of tourism matters, Rettke said. She noted that there is a tourism committee with representatives from different areas of the county.

The work that has been put into tourism in recent years has resulted in Franklin County being put “on the map,” Rettke said. “Whoever thought about traveling to Franklin County as a tourism destination? And now we get tourists from all over coming here.”

As the designated marketing organization for Franklin County, Washington Tourism is the only entity that can request state funds for tourism in Franklin County, Rettke said.

It is important that the cities and the county work together on a united front on tourism to promote the region as a whole, she added.

“We need to have the county see that tourism is important,” Rettke said.

Presiding Commissioner John Griesheimer said last month that tourism is very important to the local economy.

“John does see the importance of it (tourism),” Rettke said.