Local and regional leaders said Wednesday morning that tourists and travelers don't care about county or state lines; they are drawn to attractions, such as the Ocoee River. And last year, 229,542 visitors who came to raft the river contributed more than $43 million to a 30-county region, including Hamilton County.
—Tourists bring about $1 billion to Hamilton County every year, a portion of that because of the Ocoee River, Doak said.
—Tourism creates more than 8,500 jobs annually.
—Hamilton County recently surpassed the Knoxville area to take the No. 4 tourist spot in 2011.
"If Bob's not talking about it in Chattanooga, I can guarantee that they are talking about it in Knoxville," Dr. Steve Morse, UTK, said Wednesday of that achievement.
"We certainly promote this as part of the brand of Chattanooga," Bob Doak, president and CEO of the Chattanooga Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said at a press conference Wednesday morning. "We do get people who are taking day trips who are based out of Chattanooga. That's what we brand ourselves as—a great city by nature."
During the summer of 2012, the Ocoee River Outfitters Association and the America Outdoors Association contracted the University of Tennessee at Knoxville to conduct the first economic impact study of visitor spending by Ocoee rafters who visited a 60-mile radius of the Ocoee River and Polk County.
Keith Jenkins, owner of Quest Expeditions, said that rafting companies have a contract with TVA that expires in 2018.
Leaders in the rafting community thought it would be good to have information about the impact of their business when that contract comes back up for negotiation.
The Ocoee River is the most visited whitewater river in the nation.
"It's great to be a part of something that's No. 1," Doak also said.
The Ocoee River impacts 30 counties: 14 in South Central Tennessee, 13 in North Georgia and three in West North Carolina.
Tennessee counties are Bledsoe, Blount, Bradley, Cumberland, Hamilton, Loudon, Marion, McMinn, Meigs, Monroe, Polk, Rhea, Roane and Van Buren. Georgia counties are Catoosa, Dade, Dawson, Fannin, Gilmer, Gordon, Lumpkin, Murray, Pickens, Towns, Union, Walker and Whitfield. North Carolina counties are Cherokee, Clay and Graham.
According to the report, rafting-related spending in 2012 sustained 622 full-time jobs and created $14.12 million in worker paychecks and income within the region, Dr. Steve Morse, economist and associate professor in the Department of Retail, Hospitality and Tourism Management at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, said.
Direct spending at rafting outfitters, hotels and lodging, restaurants, retail, and transportation businesses created 477 of those jobs.
There were 65 jobs created indirectly as a result of business expenditures on raw materials, supplies and other operating expenses, which help support jobs in other local businesses.
There were 80 jobs created as a result of the ripple effect of employee paychecks and wages generated being spent in the area economy.
“These jobs will never be exported to another country," Morse said.
Throughout the 30-county region, visitors generated $3.57 million in state, federal and local taxes, according to the study.
That total includes $2.70 million in direct taxes, $319,537 in indirect taxes and $550,123 that comes from a ripple effect of spending, according to the study.
Doak said that—for Hamilton County—tourists save every taxpayer who owns property about $500.
"I like to call tourists 'temporary taxpayers,'" Morse said. "They pick up part of your tax obligation."
Updated @ 12:01 p.m. on 5/22/13 to add more information.
Updated @ 3:41 p.m. on 5/22/13 to clarify: The Ocoee is the most visited whitewater river in the nation, not just the area, as originally reported.
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