Tourism is the purest play to increase our wealth
How do we measure the wealth of communities in Cumberland County and what can we do to ensure their economic growth?
First, we need to recognize that our wealth resides with the businesses and families of the county and not our municipal governments.
Our local governments are there to provide the necessary services to support the aspirations of our citizens and businesses, and its fiduciary obligation is to secure the required funding to do so, through assessment of local taxes and fees, and grants from other sources.
There are constraints on what municipalities can do. Operating budgets must be balanced by the end of the budget year, and municipalities cannot finance operational expenses with debt, which is reserved for funding major capital projects.
So where does the wealth of our county show up? It does so in the economic value of the properties, businesses, investments and savings accumulated over time by members of our communities. Of course, if a community is in poor economic health it will be reflected in lower than average family income and savings, marginal business profits and undervalued properties.
While we generate significant business and personal income in agriculture, forestry, fishing and manufacturing, the county is struggling with a declining and aging population and increased economic growth to arrest this trend has been identified as a top priority.
Recognize that a great deal of the wealth that we accumulate leaves our communities as we purchase products, services and resources not sourced locally. Prime examples are the imported fruit and vegetables we see in our supermarkets, even in our
growing seasons, while high quality local produce is available in all too few outlets.
And we hardly notice other forms of wealth leakage that occur. It’s a small example, but the recent closing of Connor’s Family Restaurant on South Albion Street in Amherst is regrettable. While the employees may find work elsewhere and some patrons will move on to McDonalds and Tim’s/ Burger King in the town, these are U.S and Brazilian-owned franchises that will benefit from some of the restaurant income that was previously retained by the local owners. It’s good to have these popular restaurants to serve the many highway passers-by, but it comes at a price.
On the bright side, Dayle’s, the Victoria Faire Centre, and Birkinshaw’s Tea Room in Amherst are recent good news stories when it comes to generating local wealth. In the tourist season they bring needed revenue into the town, and in the off-season, they are a delight to patronise, even if the money flows take place mainly within the county with no net gain in wealth. But we locals must be sure to frequent them in the off-season to ensure they are around for the full year.
When you consider the flow of monies involved, it’s clear that tourism, properly developed and managed, can be a significant source of future wealth for our communities.
Contemplate this scenario. Tourists from away arrive with healthy bank accounts and credit card balances, and ready-made plans to spend time and money in our county. It’s a one-way flow of riches coming in our direction; and their showing up is a no-cost event for us. They don’t expect to be paid for showing up or depart with more in the bank than they arrived with!
And any costs we incur are typically incurred locally, paying local workers and businesses. This is truly the purest play to increase our collective wealth, and we have the basic tourism assets to exploit and make it happen. The reason these visitors would show up is mainly due to the bounty of the stunningly beautiful and unspoiled natural settings we enjoy. Not to mention the wide range of healthy outdoor activities and stimulating cultural, craft, and historic interest opportunities that more tourists are seeking.
And, there is a class of visitors, particularly from overseas, that will increasingly come to see our corner of the planet as a calming retreat, a sanctuary, with many opportunities for personal renewal in mind and body, in our increasingly troubled world. And they tend to be from the “high yield” market segments of visitors who spend more time and money while touring than the average visitor.
Of course, we will need to invest in some “grooming” of attractions and “product development” as the tourism pros say, along with effective on-line promotion, but it needn’t all be done overnight, and the skilled job opportunities created over time in the growing local enterprises will do much to guarantee a brighter future for our people.