Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Southwest Michigan hunts for Pure Michigan alternatives

LANSING—Crisp, clean waters and breathtaking nature trails have been hooking more tourists and reeling them into Michigan during the last five years.

Those images will no longer glow from TV screens because of state budget cuts, but Southwest Michigan will cast other lures to keep the steady catch of travelers.

The state’s Pure Michigan campaign took a 37 percent budget cut two years ago, and spending dwindled from $17 million for 2009-10 to $5.4 million for the twelve months that begin Oct. 1, said Dave Lorenz, manager of public and industry relations for Travel Michigan, the state’s official tourism promotion unit.

Lorenz said a 2009 study of the national ad campaign showed the state collected $2.23 in taxes for every dollar spent on Pure Michigan.

With the ads gone, some tourist agencies are unsure whether state revenue will be in jeopardy.

Some Southwest Michigan communities actively pursued tourists on their own even while Pure Michigan was running. Among the lures were the recently built carousel and interactive fountain in St. Joseph, Four Winds Casino in New Buffalo and the Harbor Shores Golf Club in Benton Harbor.

“In Michigan’s great Southwest, we’ve been supporters in the Pure Michigan campaign because we believe it created a positive image for the state,” said Cornerstone Alliance President Wendy Dant Chesser.

Cornerstone Alliance is a Benton Harbor-based nonprofit economic development organization and one of three groups that funded the golf course.

“Although our area benefits from the Pure Michigan campaign, we are hopeful that the momentum that we’ve seen through the summer of 2010 will continue into next year,” Dant Chesser said. “We locally have spent a lot of efforts to establish ourselves as a tourism destination.”

Cornerstone Alliance advertised independently in Chicago and Indiana through billboards and trade shows, she said.

“The Pure Michigan campaign added to what we were doing,” she said, adding that it will be difficult to separate the impact of eliminating the state portion.

But some business owners in the area, including Kay Barlow-Segrave, owner of American Preferred Realtors in St. Joseph, said the loss of the state ads would have little impact.

Barlow-Segrave said she’s seen an increase in people, especially those from out of state, wanting to buy second homes in the last six months.

However, she doesn’t attribute that demand to Pure Michigan ads.

“The St. Joe-Benton Harbor area has done a ton of advertising on their own,” she said. “We’ve added amenities that have made it more popular.”

St. Joseph County has a variety of assets that attract tourists, said Deb Herring, president of the River Country Tourist Council.

Dotted with small lakes and rivers and home to Amish communities and agriculture, St. Joseph County attracts a slightly different mix of tourists than Lake Michigan resort areas.

Herring said the county has seen more short stays by tourists and more visitors at town and county fairs and festivals in recent years.

“We are sorry to see that funding go,” she said. “We do feel that Pure Michigan is helping.”

Herring said the county is looking for ways to make up for the lost state-aid advertising.

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Filed under: State Agencies

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CNS reporters cover state government — issues and personalities.



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