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Tourism industry a key component
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Georgia, like so many states, is facing tough economic times right now.


Families and businesses alike are cutting back their budgets and concentrating on getting from one day to the next.


However, many are cautiously optimistic as hopes for recovery begin to appear. 


While we stand on the brink of a new economic era, we must reevaluate where we are as a state. Operating in a newly recovered economy does not call for businesses as usual. As state leaders, now is the time to position our state to emerge from this downturn as the economic engine of the South.


Our state’s economy relies heavily on its tourism industry.


In fact, tourism is Georgia’s largest industry after agriculture, and many would say it’s most important.


Tourism provides almost 250,000 jobs and generates $6.9 billion in resident wages. This is one area we can prepare our state to meet the future opportunities and challenges of a new economy.


The good news is, we’re already getting started. Just last month, leaders in government, business and hospitality gathered for the annual 2009 Governor’s Tourism Conference at Lake Lanier Islands Resort to discuss Georgia’s future. 


In addition to theme parks and other large attractions, Georgia tourism is fueled by family businesses and venues.


The conference provides these businesses an accessible and affordable outlet to network with other leaders in the industry and to discuss ideas on how to move tourism forward.


This year I was invited as a panelist for a listening session on the major challenges facing tourism and a discussion on how the state can help promote the industry.


I was pleased to join distinguished panelists Reps. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah), my counterpart in the House Economic Development Committee, and Ben Harbin (R-Evans), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, as well as Sean McGinnis, an Atlanta publisher; Dennis Kelly, president and CEO of Zoo Atlanta; and Virgil Williams, owner of Lake Lanier Islands and our host for the conference.


Mr. Williams’ newly renovated resort is a great example of how a successful public-private partnership can benefit tourism. With $75 million invested in its renovation, Lake Lanier Islands is once again a premier tourist destination generating revenue for the entire area. 


As is customary, Chairman Stephens and I presided over a joint meeting of the Senate and House Economic Development Committees, where we heard an update from the Georgia Department of Economic Development on the state of the economy and tourism numbers. 


We also heard from a local Pickens County business, Southern Fire Service and Sales. Scott Evans, CEO of the fire truck manufacturer and former Pickens County Chamber of Commerce executive, outlined challenges that his company and other small businesses face in a tightening economy amid ever increasing competition.


Scott also let us know where their company is looking for future growth, as well as things that the state is doing that are working, and as expected, some things we could improve on.


Though Southern Fire Service is not a tourism company, we have made it a practice to highlight small, local businesses as we conduct these meetings around the state each year. 


I also invited my local Chambers of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureaus from the 51st District to join me for a meeting to discuss what challenges they’re facing and how we can work together to better promote all that Northeast Georgia has to offer.


One of the most important factors in growing Georgia’s tourism is ensuring that local officials and organizations understand the tourism industry’s significant effect on our economy. This is something we all plan to focus on in the next year. Another point was made that North Georgia has a unique opportunity to promote tourism venues and package products that give visitors a taste of the culture, scenery and people of our mountain communities.


Positioning the region as a premier destination for hotels and attractions in the future will bring millions in revenue to the area, all important jobs, and solidify Georgia’s place as a leader in domestic and international tourism as the economy recovers. We look forward to developing a continued partnership with the chambers and CVBs to move this idea forward.           


 As always, our region gets a huge boost in tourism upon the arrival of cool autumn weather, when thousands of visitors flock to the popular fall festivals that have helped grow North Georgia into a true tourist destination.


These events are run by the small local and family businesses that drive our state’s tourism industry.


The Jasper/Pickens County Marble Festival was held two weekends ago. Local apple farmers take center stage during Ellijay’s Georgia Apple Festival in the second and third weekends in October.


Small businesses and local artists gather in Dahlonega in support of the Gold Rush Days during the third weekend in October.


Celebrate Dawson County’s racing and early NASCAR history during this year’s Mountain Moonshine Festival, Oct. 23-25.


Sen. Chip Pearson can be reached at 321-B Coverdell Legislative Office Building, Atlanta, GA 30334, (404) 656-9221 or