GREENFIELD — Two state officials trekked from eastern Massachusetts to Greenfield on Friday morning for a Franklin County Chamber of Commerce breakfast focused on tourism and the economic life it can breathe into the region.
Keiko Matsudo Orrall, executive director of the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism, and Tony D’Agostino, the agency’s research director, traveled to Terrazza Ristorante to speak about the importance of tourist dollars absorbed through the hospitality industry and to encourage business professionals in the area to capitalize on the natural resources at their disposal.
“I’m struck by the beauty of Franklin County,” said Orrall, a former four-term state representative and Smith College alumna. “I think sometimes it takes someone with fresh eyes to remind you that you live in a beautiful, beautiful part of the commonwealth. It is truly a hidden gem.”
D’Agostino jokingly thanked attendees for making him wake up at 4:30 a.m. and then presided over an energetic presentation on state tourism statistics.
He said Massachusetts hosted roughly 30 million domestic visitors annually before the COVID-19 pandemic, ranking the state 20th in the country. The Bay State also took in 1.8 million overseas visitors (ranking eighth in the nation) and just fewer than 700,000 visitors from Canada (10th in the country). D’Agostino said Massachusetts has consistently ranked 16th in combined domestic and international travel spending.
In 2019, he explained, there was $24.9 billion in combined domestic and international spending, supporting 155,000 jobs and generating $1.6 billion in state and local taxes, which he said is “a big chunk” of the state’s budget.
D’Agostino explained the definition of a tourist is someone who travels 50 miles one way or stays overnight in paid accommodations. It is defined this way for the sake of continuity and to differentiate “new money to the state.”
“If I leave my house and I go left to McDonald’s or right to Burger King, that’s not new money to the state. It’s simple substitution,” he said. “When I make a conscious decision to go 50 or more miles or stay overnight somewhere, that’s new money to the state.”
The special guests’ comments were preceded by remarks from Jon Schaefer, owner of Berkshire East Mountain Resort and Zoar Outdoor Adventure Resort, and Michael Nelson, president of the Franklin County Agricultural Society. Schaefer’s businesses and the agricultural society, which runs the Franklin County Fairgrounds, were the breakfast’s sponsors.
Schaefer, whose father bought the ski resort business in 1976, said his companies represent about 115,000 visits to the community each year.
“We do have the backbone of the community here that a lot of those folks just don’t even know about,” Schaefer said. “And what we need to do as a community is not only tell a better story amongst ourselves about why this place is so special, but also advertise that to the people that are driving by (Interstate) 91.
“Our job is to tell our own story better, and that’s the role of the chamber, that’s the role of business owners,” Schaefer continued.
Nelson said the fairgrounds has received several grants that have helped the property survive a global pandemic. He said the nonprofit is “really taking that property to a whole new level and making it a year-round destination for our community,” adding that the agricultural society has invested more than $600,000, including grant money and donations from the public, in the past six months. The fairgrounds recently completed a few projects, including a wiring upgrade and an LED lighting installation. He mentioned the property has events slated for nearly every weekend until the end of October.
Nelson also thanked everyone who has donated to support the fairgrounds.
“So if you were one of those people that helped us out, thank you so much,” he said. “You really helped build the fairgrounds into the facility that it’s becoming and got us through some dark days.”
Rob Stewart, creative director at Transit Authority Figures in Northampton, provided an overview of his company’s efforts to help Franklin County brand and market itself. His company plans to roll out branded merchandise including pint glasses, coasters and tote bags.
“(We’re) thinking of Franklin County as a little country, like Iceland, which is trying to build its brand identity and cast a spell,” he told the Greenfield Recorder at the fairgrounds, where Nelson brought roughly 10 people — including Orrall and state Rep. Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland — on a walking tour following the breakfast to highlight the facility’s recent improvements. Orrall and Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Diana Szynal also embarked on a tour at Tree House Brewing in Deerfield.
Nelson showed his guests the fairground’s buildings and detailed the process of replacing all the old electrical panels and providing LED lighting on every utility pole. The project cost $150,000, paid for with a $70,000 grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and an $80,000 loan. He said the upgrades will be the lifeblood of the fairgrounds because RVs and food vendors need reliable power.
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