Tourism is the purest play to in­crease our wealth

The Amherst News - - OPINION - Alan Wal­ter Alan Wal­ter is a re­tired pro­fes­sional en­gi­neer liv­ing in Ox­ford. He was born in Wales and worked in Halifax. He spends much of his time in Ox­ford, where he op­er­ates a small farm. He can be reached at alan­wal­[email protected]

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.

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