Tourism official: County has its share of attractions

By DAVE HINTON
Rantoul Press editor


Champaign County is famous for its mountains and oceans, which is what drives its tourism industry.
OK, maybe not, but the county does still possess a significant tourism draw, the president and CEO of the Champaign County Convention and Visitors Bureau told the Rantoul Village Board last Tuesday.

Jayne DeLuce said tourism is an important business tool for Rantoul and Champaign County.

And while the county might not have many natural wonders like mountains and oceans to draw tourists, it does have a significant sports draw, which she said is “big business” to the area.

Among those draws are Fighting Illini athletics, the Christie Clinic marathon and youth sports.

She said motel rooms in Champaign County, including Rantoul, for last weekend’s high school wrestling championships in Champaign were virtually sold out.

In mid-May the University of Illinois hosts the NCAA tennis championships at Atkins Tennis Center.  

“We’re definitely a sports destination,” DeLuce said.

She noted that 2,460 jobs in the county are tied to the travel industry, according to 2011 figures, the latest available.

There was $58.8 million in travel-generated payroll and $4.64 million in local tax revenue, a 3.2 percent increase over the previous year. There was $283 million in direct spending by visitors in the county, a 6.4 percent increase above 2010 levels, and a 7 percent increase in hotel occupancy.

DeLuce said those figures show that tourism is rebounding. And while people might not be traveling as far, they are still taking trips.

There are other draws to the county.

“Meetings and conventions, which (are) more subtle in appearance, but the economic impact is huge,” DeLuce said. “A three-day conference for 150 attendees creates a midweek overnight stay worth $54,000 and an economic impact that adds up to millions over the year.”

Another segment is leisure tourism, DeLuce said, such as a bank travel group that might visit Hardy’s Reindeer Ranch; or an international group of agriculture professors doing research; or families visiting Chanute Air Museum, the Hap Parker Family Aquatic Center or hiking outdoors.

Added DeLuce, “Visitors also come to enjoy our big-time festivals such as the Half Century of Progress show, Historic Farm Days and hundreds of events at Gordyville.”

In the area of international tourism, studies have found the  United Kingdom, Mexico, Japan, China and Germany are the top foreign regions visiting Illinois.

“Locally, agritourism has seen a huge (increase),” DeLuce said. “Just within the last few months (the bureau) has booked groups from Denmark, Brazil, Ireland and Russia.”

DeLuce called last year challenging for the bureau “with a major local funding cut.”

That cut came when the city of Urbana completely dropped its funding — a $72,000 hit.

Still, the bureau opened the first Champaign County welcome center, announced the relocation of the Bloomington Gold Corvette show, which starts in June, and hosted the third day of the seven-day Hot Rod Power tour in June, which generated 1,400 hotel overnight stays on a Monday night resulting in a more than an estimated $1.3 million impact.

This year, she said, the bureau has shifted to a business model based on four components: 1) tourism industry partners, which includes Rantoul as a silver partner (the village gave the bureau $5,000 last year, a $1,000 increase); 2) 50-50 matching grants through the Illinois Office of Tourism; a tourism development fund that leads community funding efforts to recruit and retain large-scale events; 4) other income such as new advertising packages in its visitors guide and online, in-kind contributions and other community support.

DeLuce also noted that Rich Thomas, Rantoul recreation superintendent, continues to serve on the Champaign County Convention and Visitors Bureau board, and that “Rantoul’s own” Corey Hatfield serves on staff.

Rantoul may go “green.” Village Administrator Bruce Sandahl told the board that Rantoul will host an exploratory meeting to consider the establishment of a local and regional food production network.

A meeting scheduled for Tuesday, March 12, at the Rantoul Business Center would include discussion about using some of the village’s available space on the grounds of the former Chanute Air Force Base.

“What we’re looking at is making several plots of ground available in the village of Rantoul for vegetable production,” Sandahl said. “This is one of the ways of trying to drive farmers market in Rantoul.”

Sandahl said part of the problem of maintaining a successful local farmers market is the lack of available space for growing vegetables.

“When you consider the price of farm ground in the area, it’s no wonder why people can’t afford to grow large plots of vegetables,” Sandahl said.

He said nearly 40 people are scheduled to attend the meeting.

Incubator classes scheduled. Sandahl said several classes are scheduled at the University of Illinois business incubator at the Business Center.

They include classes conducted by the Regional Planning Commission on financial planning; United States Department of Agriculture business programs and related opportunities; and a Small Business Center seminar about the Rantoul foreign trade zone.

“It’s important to help people understand the benefits of the foreign trade zone and allow more people to take advantage of it,” Sandahl said.

In June, the Business Center will host a Business After Hours sponsored by the Rantoul Area Chamber of Commerce.

Sandahl said one firm at the incubator has received its first major order “and will have cash flow in the right way.”

“It’s a very, very nice success story about how it works when you get the U of I, Parkland, Enterprise Works and Rantoul Business Center incubator working together to attract small business,” Sandahl said.

Village receives budget presentation award. Sandahl told the board that the village had received a Distinguished Budget Presentation Award from The Government Finance Officers Association of the United States. In 2011, 1,328 entities received the award. The awards program is the only national awards program in governmental budgeting.

A news release indicates the award “reflects the commitment of the governing body and staff to meeting the highest principles of governmental budgeting.”

A thankful scholarship recipient. Mayor Neal Williams read a letter from Jamie Leigh Korda, who thanked the board for giving her a $500 scholarship.
A second-year business student at Parkland College, she plans to further her studies at Eastern Illinois University.

Special meeting scheduled.
The board will hold a special meeting at 6:15 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 26, at the Municipal Building, 333 S. Tanner St. The board is expected to award a contract for construction of Innovation Road, which will serve the Easton-Bell plant to the north.

dhinton@rantoulpress.com

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