The old adage says, “Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.”
Clark County is home to more than 130,000 residents, but it is also an attractive location for visitors. And a recent study shows that Clark County is officially “on the map” of tourist destinations.
The Greater Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau revealed the results of an economic impact study conducted by Tourism Economics in partnership with Tourism Ohio. The study indicates that visitors to Clark County generated more than $440 million in local economic impact for 2019.
“As part of our rebranding effort dating back about five years now, we have worked to position Springfield in a unique, clear space between the hustle and bustle of the ‘three C’s (Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati),’ and the pure escapism of somewhere like Hocking Hills,” says Chris Schutte, vice president of destination marketing for the Chamber of Greater Springfield. “We invite visitors to explore at their own pace. The ‘Find Your Unwind’ tagline encapsulates this idea.”
The economic study additionally details an increase of $23 million dollars in tourism spending since the last study conducted in 2017. The economic impact of tourism in Clark County has increased by more than $45 million and 11.5 percent since 2015.
“The Tourism Economics study confirms our confidence in our destination marketing strategy and is a testament to the fantastic work being done by our local attractions, event managers and lodging partners,” Schutte says. “Our sustained growth over the past five years validates our investment in a comprehensive brand strategy for our community that continues to attract business and leisure travelers.”
Tourism is an integral and driving component of the Clark County economy providing nearly 4,400 local jobs and sustaining 8.1 percent of private employment, according to the study. Tourism in Clark County also generated $26 million in state and local taxes in 2019.
The current marketing strategy has seen considerable success with video, digital platforms and influencer marketing throughout the past couple years, Schutte says.
“Even with existing limitations, we are still planning to host five to six travel influencers who will then generate content on their blogs and social media platforms,” he says. “That strategy has netted hundreds of thousands of engagements for us. Visiting influencers are constantly amazed at what Springfield has to offer and provide invaluable content for us.”
Schutte added that the vast majority of Clark County’s leisure travelers are within a three-hour drive.
“We focus virtually all of our resources on this area,” he says. “We market and brand Greater Springfield as a ‘weekend getaway’ which – under current conditions – resonates better than a ‘vacation.’”
The Clark State Performing Arts Center (PAC) located in downtown Springfield has attracted patrons from all corners of state and even from across the Ohio border.
From January 1, 2018, through December 31, 2019, the PAC welcomed patrons from 52 Ohio counties and six outlying states, says Adele Adkins, executive director of the PAC. This accounted for more than 19,000 tickets sold to individuals outside of Clark County during this time period.
“One of my absolute favorite occurrences is when I’m in the lobby and hear someone say they have never been to the PAC,” Adkins says. “That means we are reaching new audiences. I had a young couple introduce themselves to me last fall who were from Xenia. They had never even heard of the venue but heard a commercial on WYSO and thought they would check it out. They fell in love with the venue and came to three more shows.”
Not only does the PAC lure visitors to Clark County with its diverse schedule of performances, but more than seven shows have selected the PAC for their “tech” rehearsals.
“Every tech/rehearsal we have hosted has been about 10 days long,” Adkins says. “Each production has about 50 people staying for ten days at the Courtyard by Marriott and eating their meals downtown.”
The PAC also hires about 20 local stagehands for the duration of each tech period, thus boosting the employment in the area.
Adkins explained many variables go into a producer’s decision about where to place “tech” performances, as it costs them around $150,000, with the two main reasons being venue and location.
“We are central in the country which makes the location good, and our venue has everything they need technically, which after 26 years is outstanding,” she says. “After we had our first tech in 2015, word got out about what a great tech house we were, which speaks to the entire staff, and now we can’t accommodate all the requests. We have four Broadway shows waiting in line for 2021.”
The PAC celebrated 25 years of entertainment in Clark County with its 2018-19 season hosting an array of shows ranging from pet comedy, Broadway performances and live music. Just this past June the PAC event staff made national headlines by hosting the country’s first drive-in live music event with local country artist Wyatt McCubbin.
“There have been huge studies from foundations and Universities all around the country pointing to the fact that the arts/entertainment are one of the largest economic drivers in a community,” says Adkins. “Second only to professional sports.”
But for other visitors, seeking the great outdoors is what draws them to Clark County.
Leann Castillo, executive director of the National Trail Parks and Recreation District (NTPRD), says what NTPRD has to offer is part of the reason people come to Clark County.
“Between us and the Clark County Parks District with over 20 miles of bike trails, people are coming to our community because we are connected to the largest continuous paved bike network in the United States,” she says. “A lot of people are coming to our region and therefore coming to Springfield.”
NTPRD also boasts three whitewater kayak areas along Buck Creek State Park, climbing cliffs and bouldering at Veterans Park.
Within the parks Castillo says the Summer Arts Festival at Veteran’s Park – the longest running free arts festival in the country – hosts more than 80,000 people each year.
“Those people are eating dinner, buying things while they’re here, maybe spending the night, buying gas. That is a big draw to our community,” she says.
She also noted a variety of other recreational activities happening in Clark County, including opportunities around Buck Creek to camp, boat and bring horses to the trails. And, the annual Springfield Rotary Gourmet Food Truck Competition at Veteran’s Park brings close to 15,000 people to the area in one day.
In the wake of COVID-19, the NTPRD areas have thrived.
“We are keeping our parks and bike path clean, safe and attractive,” Castillo says. “Those are things you can do and properly social distance every day. We have seen a huge increase in the amount of people on the bike path and in the parks, even just hanging out with their family. A lot of people are accessing the outdoors, which is important to our fitness and well-being, and one way we can be in nature, outside getting fresh air and exercise. We play a big role in that.”
Castillo hopes people will continue to enjoy the parks and remember there is always something to do in the parks, thus continuing to boost the local tourism economy.
“Hopefully when people are coming into town, and they are on the bike path, they are looking for a place to stop get ice cream or get something to drink,” she says. “Everyone in our community is open and understands that people are going to come here. We want to be warm and inviting and make sure everyone feels welcome. And that is what we can all do together.”
Another large draw to the Clark County area is the Clark County Fairgrounds which hosts the annual Clark County Fair and in recent years added boating events on Champions Park Lake to the annual calendar. The fairground also houses the Champions Center – the location of many large annual livestock shows – and hosts one of the largest antique shows in the country.
The Board of Clark County Commissioners and the Clark County Agricultural Society recently announced a three-year, $3 million renovation plan for the area of the fairgrounds, furthering its ability to host events that will appeal to tourists and visitors from outside Clark County.
“The best thing we can all do is speak positively about Springfield and Clark County,” Schutte says. “I always say if we build a place you would like to visit, we’re building a place you would like to live.”