Michigan legislators hear of 'Pure Michigan' success from testimony at Muskegon luge complex

NORTH MUSKEGON — For the Republicans now controlling state government, the Pure Michigan tourism campaign appears to be the kind of spending they can support.

Matt Gade | Muskegon ChronicleState Rep. Frank Foster, R-Pellston, discusses Pure Michigan tourism funding as state Sen. Goeff Hansen, R-Hart, listens Thursday afternoon at the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex in the Muskegon State Park.

For every dollar of state funds used to market Michigan as a travel destination, the Pure Michigan campaign generates an estimated $2.94 in new state taxes from new tourists visiting the state, recent studies show.

With that kind of 'return on investment,' a bipartisan legislative team led by the chairmen of the House and Senate tourism committees spoke of their strong support for full funding of the Pure Michigan program for 2011.

Legislators took testimony Thursday on the Pure Michigan funding bills at the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex in the Muskegon State Park.

Sen. Goeff Hansen, R-Hart, and state Rep. Frank Foster, R-Pellston, heard testimony in support of continued Pure Michigan funding at $25 million for the year contained in identical bills before the House and Senate. House members are expected to vote on the tourism promotion dollars next week and the Senate the following week, legislators said.

Among those testifying before a panel that also included state Reps. Holly Hughes, R-White River Township and Marcia Hovey-Wright, D-Muskegon was Silver Lake Buggy Rentals owner Mark Rippee from Oceana County.

Rippee said the award-winning Pure Michigan campaign of television, radio and billboard advertising was a key factor behind an increase in business at his Silver Lake rental outlet even as the national and Michigan economies were in the tank.

'This is something in the 21st Century Jobs Fund that helps an entire industry,' Forest said of the pot of money suggested for Pure Michigan generated from the state's tobacco settlement. 'This is not a government handout, but a public-private partnership.'

Legislators heard from convention and visitors bureau chiefs from Muskegon and Grand Haven. In Muskegon, over the past few years of the Pure Michigan campaign, Michigan's Adventure Amusement Park and Muskegon County have joined funds with Pure Michigan to promote the park and the county.

Meanwhile, Muskegon and the Grand Haven area are members of the Lake Michigan communities known as Michigan Beach Towns, which have partnered with the Pure Michigan campaign to entice Chicago-area vacationers to Michigan's West Coast.

'Pure Michigan is the fuel of the economic engine that is tourism,' Shoreline Inn General Manager Doug Pollock told legislators. Not only does the campaign draw tourists, but some of those tourists decide the quality of life of the state is such that they want to relocate their businesses here, he said.

The significance of the Michigan tourism industry wasn't lost on those testifying, nor the legislators. In Michigan, tourism is the third-largest economic sector generating $18 billion of annual activity, while employing more than 140,000 people.

In Muskegon County, from 6,000-9,000 people are employed in the tourism industry depending upon the time of year, many months accounting for more than 10 percent of all Muskegon County jobs, said Janessa Smit, vice president of governmental affairs for the Muskegon Area Chamber of Commerce.

Not only do national Pure Michigan ads draw visitors to the state but they also boost Michigan's sagging image and pull at the heartstrings of those who have moved away but want to return to the state, legislators said.

The ads — acclaimed as one of the top state tourism campaigns of all time — combine beautiful images of Michigan with powerful words read by one of Michigan's own — actor Tim Allen. From skiing to boating and the fall harvest to Lake Michigan beaches, the campaign celebrates the natural assets that have drawn visitors to Michigan for generations.

Legislative luge State Sen. Goeff Hansen (red helmet) and state Reps. Frank Foster (white helmet) and Holly Hughes (black helmet) get luge instruction from Muskegon Winter Sports Complex Director Jim Rudicil before taking their first luge run.

'The Pure Michigan money has gone from $5 million six years ago to $30 million recently when the television ad campaign was taken to a national audience,' Hansen said. 'What we have seen with the bigger ad buy is just phenomenal when talking to local tourism business owners.'

Hansen said a move is afoot in the Republican-controlled House and Senate to find a stable source of Pure Michigan funding for the next eight years. The campaign received the specific endorsement of new Republican Gov. Rick Snyder in his first State of the State address.

After the testifying was done, Hansen, Hughes and Foster tried their first run down Muskegon's luge track. Foster — a young freshman legislator from near Petoskey — said he grew up knowing the white powder stacking up in the Muskegon State Park woods is 'white gold' for Michigan as winter tourism is a major economic driver in many communities.