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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Tourism Hokum

I've found out in recent days from two blog sources who can be counted on to carry Congressman Rick Boucher's water when he demands it, that the Galax Gazette has put up some numbers to support his contention that the tourism industry in Southwest Virginia is thriving. No, it goes beyond that. It's bursting at the seams.

*** I'm going to ask each of you to take a moment and look around at the abandoned home to your left and the closed factory to your right before I proceed.

Now, the exciting "news":
Travelers bringing big bucks
By E.A. Seagraves, Staff Reporter, Galax Gazette

Tourism is big business in Virginia, with $16.5 billion spent in the Commonwealth by travelers in 2005. But what is the impact of tourism in the Galax-Carroll-Grayson area?

A recent economic impact study conducted by the Travel Industry Association for the Virginia Tourism Corporation showed that during 2005, domestic travelers spent $70,337,483 on transportation, lodging, food, entertainment and recreation in the Twin Counties.

Direct spending by domestic travelers in the Galax-Carroll-Grayson area supported 909 full-time and seasonal jobs, which in turn generated more than $15,162,379 in wages and salaries. (link)
Wow. You folks in Galax-Carroll-Grayson are rolling in the dough. 909 jobs in such a small area. That's astounding.

But total horse shit.

I'm going to avoid mightily the inclination to draw attention to the obvious association between the Gazette, its management, and Congressman Boucher's ... office, despite the fact that there is an ulterior motive for these numbers to be good, and the fact that there is an association of the closest kind. Our Congressman has staked his reputation - and hundreds of millions of tax dollars - on his tourism project succeeding and certain people at the Gazette have an interest (shall we say?) in his not being thrown out on his backside. But involving myself in the expression of such thoughts would be beneath the dignity I try rigorously to maintain on these pages so I'll let it pass.

Before I involve myself with the statistics cited, let me make a point about the source. I recently wrote the following with regard to the poor schmucks over in Dickenson County who are willing to stifle economic growth so as to save its flourishing "tourism industry" (yes, I said Dickenson County):
The Downside To Tourism

At some point, someone is going to demand numbers. If there is a burgeoning tourism industry in Dickenson County, Virginia, someone ought to be held to account and to prove it. And not by citing some state agency that is in the business of cooking up numbers that show, by census data, demographic analysis, and statistical calculation (obtained on a heath near Forres) the area to be awash in RV's, mountain bikes, and lice-infested hikers. But the numbers are never forthcoming. (link)
That state agency to which I referred is the very one cited in the Galax Gazette - the Virginia Tourism Corporation (a state-funded organization that is set up for one purpose - to promote tourism here in the commonwealth), for which another entity with a vested interest in the numbers being favorable did the study - the Travel Industry Association (that would be the people who sell you the hamburgers and rent the motel rooms). Both these organizations are set up to be cheerleaders. Nothing more.

But that doesn't necessarily make their numbers bogus. It just makes them suspect.

So, let's focus on those 909 jobs that currently exist in Galax, Carroll County, and Grayson County (note it's not 910 or "about 900"; it's exactly 909) that are designated "tourist jobs." The obvious question to ask is: Where are they? Those of you in the immediate area are about now looking around trying to count heads.

According to the last census data, in 2003 the area offered up a total of 12,908 non-farm jobs (
source). That number is therefore three years old, which means it doesn't include all the layoffs at Vaughan Furniture and Webb Furniture and Sara Lee Branded Apparel that have taken place in recent months. So the total number of jobs is something considerably less than 12,908.

Of that number, though, we are to believe 909 are devoted to tourism? I call upon the Virginia Tourism Corporation to prove it. We want names.

Look, I'm an avid student of statistics. And I know how to make numbers look presentable for the sake of bolstering an argument (in my work I've made it an artform). That 909 number is based upon nothing more than extrapolation. Statistical illation. Mathematical inference.

Which means it's a wild-ass guess that's based upon liberal parameters and definitions and that serves the purpose well.

It's also based on a fanciful use of the term "tourist job." Those of you working at the McDonald's on Stuart Drive there in Galax, I'll bet you a dollar to a Big Mac all or a portion of you are considered by this study to be in the tourism industry. You folks cleaning rooms at the Knight's Inn nearby, guess what - you too are in the tourism business. As are the employees at the convenience store and the gas station and the liquor store and the dry cleaners and the munch-a-lunch. Don't discount the proposition that those of you who wipe down the pews at the First Baptist Church down the street - gratis - are included.

Each of you, at some time in the year, rubs elbows with a tourist. therefore your name and title go into the tourism industry hopper.

See how we quickly we get to 909?

*** Those of you in Galax and surrounding communities - still looking around for neighbors who can legitimately claim to be in the tourism industry? Is it becoming a bit more clear?

But let's take those 909 jobs at face value. The 909 jobs that Rick Boucher, after 20 years of effort and a billion tax dollars of investment, has produced. Those "909 full-time and seasonal jobs." Of those that are truly in place to cater to tourists, how many exactly are full-time? 20? Of those, how many pay much more than minimum wage? 6? Of those, how many provide the kind of health benefits that Vaughan Furniture and Webb Furniture and Sara Lee paid?


So. Those of you reading this should go to the Gazette (once again, I linked to it above) and read the article in its entirety. But read it with your eyes and mind open. Ask yourself, as you review the fantastic numbers, the question I asked above with regard to those tourism jobs -

Where Are They?

I'll tell you where they are. They're
on that heath near Forres.