NLC Report Focuses on Importance of Tourism and Entertainment to Local Economic Development

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While the year-end upsurge in holiday entertainment, travel, shopping and local festivities creates an economic boost for many businesses, these activities also are becoming a mainstay of the local economic scene in cities and towns throughout America.

A new National League of Cities (NLC) report reveals that city government leaders consider entertainment, tourism, arts and recreation as key components of their local economy.

The report, based on a survey of 463 cities, found that city leaders rank entertainment and tourism as one of the top three sectors of their local economy, along with retail and wholesale trade and manufacturing. The survey also showed that city leaders see the mayor's office playing a key role in the public debate and local decision-making processes regarding this economic sector.

Leaders of central cities identify tourism and entertainment more frequently than any other economic sector as a key component for the development and well-being of their city. More than half (54 percent) put it on their "top three" priority list, ahead of manufacturing (47 percent) and retail/wholesale sales (40 percent). Manufacturing and sales were mentioned more often than the tourism/entertainment sector among suburban and non-metropolitan cities, but it still led other activities such as finance and real estate, professional and technical services, government, information and communications, social services, construction and building trades.

The NLC report, Tourism and Entertainment as a Local Economic Development Strategy, found that nearly all cities (96 percent) identified some kind of local event in their inventory of tourism and entertainment assets. Attractions mentioned by more than half the survey respondents include historic districts or sites (76 percent), museums (69 percent), farmer's markets (62 percent), performing arts centers (58 percent), entertainment/restaurant districts (58 percent) and festival or retail malls (55 percent).

"This extraordinary breadth of local events and attractions is contributing to both the quality of life and the economic vitality of America's cities and towns," said Donald Borut, NLC executive director. "These findings shed new light on the importance of entertainment, tourism, culture and leisure as a vital sector of a local economy. It is clear that city leaders also see themselves playing an important role in decisions affecting the future prospects for these activities."

When it comes to debating and shaping public policy over tourism and entertainment initiatives, 77 percent of the respondents saw the mayor's office as "very involved" in the process, far ahead of others such as planning agencies (54 percent), development agencies (46 percent), convention and tourism bureaus (44 percent), and downtown business groups (43 percent).

"The involvement by city leaders extends well beyond some of the `big ticket' items that often generate headlines," said Borut. "This sector of local economic activity influences many aspects of community life, with impacts that can be far broader, deeper and more enduring than one might initially think."

Various types of attractions are seen as having particular value for enriching a city's quality of life, attracting visitors or enhancing economic vitality. Performing arts centers and nature reserves were seen as top assets for quality of life, along with entertainment and restaurant districts. Sports facilities and convention centers were rated as top draws for visitors. Convention centers and festival/retail malls also rated high as economic assets.

Some assets are seen as providing multiple benefits. Most notably, entertainment and restaurant districts scored in the top three for all three value measures: quality of life, attracting visitors and as the lead factor for enhancing economic vitality.

City leaders also were asked to list the kinds of tourism and entertainment facilities not currently in their cities that could produce the greatest benefit. …