Tourism brings $408 million to St. Joseph County economy

Amidst a turbulent economic climate, there are positive financial numbers to report.

According to Visit South Bend-Mishawaka, our region has maintained a strong tourism-base. On Wednesday it announced visitor spending brought $408 million into St. Joseph County in 2011 alone.

Putting that figure into context, the city of South Bend's overall budget for 2011 was $145 million less, at $263.4 million. Tourism insiders say the best part; people come to Michiana shelling out a lot of money, while expecting few tax benefits in return.

“They spend their money and at the same time we don't educate their kids, we don't do the kind of things you have to do for citizens, so it's really in many ways like found money,” Studebaker National Museum executive director Rebecca Bonham said.

Contrary to popular belief, that “found money” trickles into town when most residents would least expect it.

"June, July and August are actually our three biggest months of the year. So while that football season is fantastic, we're just now in the heart of our busiest season of the year,” Visit South Bend – Mishawaka executive director Rob DeCleene said.

In fact, according to Forbes Magazine, only $60 million or 15-percent of local tourism revenue is generated by Notre Dame home football games.

So what makes up the difference? St. Joseph County’s 11 museums sure assist. Last year alone, the Studebaker National Museum welcomed 36,000 guests from all 50 states and 20 countries.

"That’s a real breath of fresh air because after the recession, it's so good to know that we're on the way back up and those figures are very-very impressive,” Bonham added.

October brought the completion of the $53 million Compton Family Ice Arena at Notre Dame. It's since been featured on national television and hosted hundreds of collegiate and youth games.

"We’re happy that people like the facility and want to come to South Bend and they want to play hockey in South Bend. They want to participate in a great game and at our facility and that helps our restaurants, that helps our hotels and it helps us talk about the good city that we live in,” Compton Family Ice Arena program manager Mike McNeill said.

"And that's what we try to do at Visit South Bend-Mishawaka every single day. We just try to put our community's best foot forward and show off a little bit and we have a lot to show off,” DeCleene concluded.

Looking ahead, there are quite a few big events coming to town. In July, the world series of baton twirling, known as America’s Youth on Parade, will invade the Notre Dame campus. Then just two weeks later, 4,000 auto-enthusiasts will attend the Studebaker International Driver's Club Meet. And on Aug. 11, the 26th annual World Pulse Festival is expected to bring 50,000 Christian music fans to the area.

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