One of the few bright spots in the Michigan economy lately has been tourism. We have one of the more fascinating and diversely attractive states in the nation. That's not news to anyone who has seen the Lake Michigan shoreline and the Sleeping Bear Dunes.
People everywhere escape to Charlevoix and Petoskey whenever they can. Nobody should go without seeing Tahquamenon Falls or the ghost copper and lumber towns of the Upper Peninsula. Everyone should experience a sunset in Copper Harbor.
For that matter, the vast and smoky world of Ford's sprawling Rouge plant also deserves to be seen -- and the company does offer tours these days. Tourism, in fact, is regularly either the second or third most important industry in Michigan, depending on whether it, or agriculture, generates the most dollars in any given year.
But while Michigan has done reasonably well in the tourism department, we've never done as we could and should have. That's largely because we've never done enough to promote our state as a tourist destination, at least until now.
Last year, for the first time ever, Michigan launched a national TV advertising campaign for itself promoting the state's natural wonders with a new slogan -- Pure Michigan.
Phil Power, founder and president of the non-profit Center for Michigan, tells me that the campaign has been a tremendous success. According to the state travel agency, the campaign brought 1.2 million new tourists to Michigan, people who wouldn't have come here if they hadn't seen the Pure Michigan ads.
That may be so, but was it worth the expense? The state tourism office hired a firm called Longwoods International to analyze that. Longwoods found that the ads brought in three times as much money as the state spent on them, or nearly $120 million.
That may even be an underestimate. Power, who is also vice-chairman of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, says the head of Michigan Travel said tourists spent an additional $250 million in the state last year. That prompted lawmakers in the state house of representatives to approve another campaign this year.
But Pure Michigan has run into a roadblock. State Senator Nancy Cassis, a Republican from Novi who is the chair of the finance committee. She has best been known recently as a skeptic about the Michigan Film Industry; she wants to cut back the tax incentives we now give producers to get them to make movies here.
And she also doesn't believe that Pure Michigan has been all that successful. As a result, the state senate wants to approve only $9.5 million for Pure Michigan which would leave the state travel agency without the funds needed for a national advertising campaign.
Yesterday, a house committee rejected that, substituting its own sensible, long-term approach. The house would set up a stable source of Pure Michigan funding in future years from the new sales tax dollars flowing into businesses related to tourism.
That would seem to make a lot of sense. Hopefully, this can all be worked out in a conference committee in a way that won't be penny-wise and dollar foolish. In frustration last week, Power told me that it sometimes seems like we never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Let's hope that for once, Lansing proves him wrong.