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Tourism is big business for Wisconsin communities

When you're having fun, we're having fun. This sentiment is deeply rooted in our Midwestern hospitality and our sincere desire to make sure each visitor to our state has a memorable vacation. We call it gemutlichkeit — a feeling of warmth, friendship and good cheer. And there's no shortage of it in Wisconsin.

Fun and hospitality are also big business for communities of every size across the state because the fun travelers experience in Wisconsin, results in a strong economy and quality of life. Last year, the millions of people who traveled around Wisconsin had a $20.6 billion impact on the state's economy and supported 195,255 jobs.

Over the last seven years, tourism generated nearly $10 billion in state and local taxes. This increase began when Gov. Scott Walker allocated additional funding for tourism marketing to bring even more travelers to Wisconsin. Since then, the state has seen a steady increase in travel expenditures, jobs and tax revenues used to pay for schools, health care, roads, police and fire protection and other essential services.

This is only the beginning because tourism continues to grow in Wisconsin. In fact, the total seven-year growth of tourism activity is up more than $5.8 billion, a nearly 40 percent increase from $14.8 billion in 2011.

But beyond the direct economic impact, tourism also creates something that can't be quantified — it generates a positive impression for Wisconsin, which is critical for economic development. It's called the Halo Effect, and our research shows that travelers who have visited Wisconsin in the past two years rate the state much higher in attributes such as a good place to live, to start a business, to attend college or to purchase a retirement home than those who have not visited the state.

Our state's Halo Effect plays an important role in attracting and retaining highly-skilled workers. With a booming economy, record-low unemployment this year and more people working than ever before, it is all the more important that we have a strong talent development, attraction and retention strategy. By focusing on this strategy, we will see more people coming to our state.

Pride in tourism is at an all-time high, and tremendous credit should be given to the tourism industry and the innovative work they do to create the fun and exciting vacation experiences that rank Wisconsin No. 1 in fun, family-friendliness, affordability and a welcoming, worry-free atmosphere when compared to other Midwest states.

Each year, more visitors are taking their hard-earned dollars and choosing Wisconsin as the destination to spend their precious time off with family, friends and even their beloved pet. Our tourism industry gives the gift of lifelong memories and, in turn, Wisconsin enjoys the benefits of a strong economy and a superior quality of life for its residents.

Stephanie Klett is secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Tourism.