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Thousand Islands tourism director criticizes economic report for downplaying tourism’s impact on jobs

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Readers of a recent 12-county regional economic report could be misled to think tourism isn’t a major driver of job creation, fears Gary S. DeYoung, executive director of the 1000 Islands International Tourism Council.

The “CenterState Agenda for Economic Opportunity,” developed by the Syracuse-based CenterState Corporation for Economic Opportunity, concerns Mr. DeYoung because the tourism employment numbers it reports are much lower than figures from the state Department of Labor. CenterState defended the report’s research analysis, conducted by the Battelle Memorial Institute, Columbus, Ohio, the world’s largest nonprofit research and development organization. The report also was prepared by the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institution.

Mr. DeYoung contended the report’s statistics on tourism employment are “woefully low, based on the kinds of recent numbers I’ve seen from the state Department of Labor.”

“I think they were trying to make the case for the manufacturing sectors with higher-paying jobs, and some of the important sectors up here weren’t paid attention to,” such as tourism and agriculture, he said.

CenterState defended the tourism analysis in the 54-page report, available online at http://wdt.me/CKrzBu. The report purports to be based significantly on public input from across its 12-county region. But it has been criticized by the North Country Alliance, a seven-county economic development consortium, for focusing limited attention on Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties.

The report identifies the tourism industry among 13 pivotal sectors in the region. Battelle, which analyzed federal Bureau of Labor statistics, found a total of 10,632 employees in 2010 across the 12-county region. Tourism jobs across the region had an average salary of $20,031 in 2011, down 29 percent from the U.S. average salary of $33,097.

But the state Department of Labor reports 26,570 employees worked in the tourism sector across the same 12 counties in 2011.

Battelle’s calculation is much lower because it does not account for food service, transportation or tourism-dependent retail jobs, including those at Destiny USA and Turning Stone Casino.

Kevin Schwab, vice president of marketing and communications at CenterState, said Battelle research is highly regarded across the country. Statistics contrast with the Department of Labor, he said, because of differences in criteria for what should define tourism jobs.

“It’s simply a matter of what is or is not included in the calculation of the industry’s jobs,” Mr. Schwab said. “With retail jobs in a shopping mall, Battelle decided that’s retail as opposed to tourism. And there are other examples of jobs where you could have people say there’s a tourism element. I think (Battelle’s) thinking was that tourism should be the primary driver of those jobs, so I think that’s why you may see that disparity” with the state’s data. “Battelle uses a pretty standard set of guidelines for how they analyze different sectors, and this is consistent with how tourism would be researched” anywhere.

According to data from 2009, the report concluded that tourism jobs in the 12-county region create less economic value compared with the national average; on average, one tourism job in the region generates an economic output of $39,934, down $9,350, or 19 percent, from the national average of $49,284. The study also found that tourism employment in the region dropped by 0.8 percent from 2001 to 2010.

The report lists six industries as “tradable sectors that bring outside resources into the region rather than serving local markets,” but it doesn’t include tourism in that group.

“To me, that was a fundamental misunderstanding of tourism economics,” Mr. DeYoung said. “By definition, tourism brings in people from outside the region who spend money here.”

He hopes the CenterState report doesn’t diminish the state’s perspective of the importance of tourism to the north country. This summer, the Development Authority of the North Country created a $2 million tourism revolving loan fund for tourism-related ventures in the seven-county region, thanks to state funding awarded through the regional council process.

“The North Country Regional Economic Development Council has done a good job making sure tourism is in the mix, and I believe the state sees that tourism can generate business on its own,” Mr. DeYoung said. CenterState’s report “runs contrary to what’s actually going on.”

But Mr. Schwab, in response, pointed out there were members of regional councils involved in the research process. Anthony G. Collins, president of Clarkson University, Potsdam, and co-chairman of the North Country Regional Economic Development Council, was a member of CenterState’s committee that oversaw the report’s development.

“This report is not meant to supplant any plans from regional councils that are in play,” Mr. Schwab said. “It’s really about sectors that affect our global competitiveness and zeroes in across the region.”

A 2011 study from the state Department of Labor reported there were 26,570 tourism jobs across CenterState CEO’s 12-county region. The Syracuse agency’s report only found 10,632.
• Cayuga County, 1,150
• Cortland County, 1,100
• Herkimer County, 760
• Jefferson County, 2,100
• Lewis County, 240
• Madison County, 700
• Oneida County, 7,170
• Onondaga County, 8,990
• Oswego County, 1,050
• Seneca County, 350
• St. Lawrence County, 1,000
• Tompkins County, 1,960
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