JOHNSON COLUMN: In Defense of Tourism

Published 10:00 am Thursday, June 20, 2024

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Recently, the LaGrange Daily News published an article that highlighted the impact of the tourism industry on LaGrange.  According to Visit LaGrange President Kathy Tilley, tourists spent $273 million in Troup County in 2022.  That is an astonishing boon to our local economy.  Those tourism dollars support nearly 3,000 local jobs and countless local small businesses.  Tourism dollars generate taxes for local governments as well.  Each dollar spent in Troup County by a tourist supports our infrastructure, schools, law enforcement, parks, and government services.  By attracting others to visit our community, tourists support a higher standard of living for all of us without having to contribute the tax dollars ourselves.  Many cities throughout the Southeast would love to have a tourism industry like ours and yet, when this story was published to Facebook, the trolls came out in droves to attack what is objectively good news.  People questioned why anyone would want to come here.  They scoffed at our lack of attractions, rise in crime, new housing developments, and a perceived lack of restaurants and shopping.

I work in downtown LaGrange and encounter many visitors to our city who are simply conducting business.  Recently, a gentleman passing through from another state asked if there was a good place to eat lunch nearby.  I laughed because on the 100 blocks of Bull and Main Streets alone there are Charlie Joseph’s, Bull’s Hibachi, Your Pie, Splendid Events, Copper Carrot Bakery, Café Brulee, Trios Cantina, Mare Sol, Venucci’s, Yama, Main Street Pub, Crave Cookies, and Scoops Ice Cream.  Just a block over on Broome Street are Brickhouse Pub and Taste of Lemon.  Still within walking distance are Country’s Barbecue, Ice Queen, Gus’s Grill, Downtown Nutrition, Karvelas Pizza, Circa Coffee, Nutwood Winery Restaurant, and Wild Leap Brewery and Distillery.  That is more than twenty different dining options just in Downtown LaGrange.  Not only is that an astonishing variety of options but those are all locally owned small businesses.  Money spent in those restaurants stays here.  This list does not include the amazing developments happening in Hillside Community either.  Hogansville and West Point have their own unique downtown restaurant scenes as well.

Let’s talk attractions next and you cannot have this discussion without mentioning Great Wolf Lodge first.  It was an absolute coup for LaGrange to land such a wonderful and quality destination.  I still get tickled when I am downtown and see families walking around with wolf ears.  Why?  Because they drove a long distance to come to LaGrange and are now buying our gas and eating at our restaurants.  However, LaGrange is more than just a family waterpark.  There are historic houses to see, museums to visit, and concerts to attend.  There is a spectacular lake in our backyard that boasts one of the most visited US Army Corps of Engineers campsites in the nation.  Troup County received the twelfth most tourism dollars of any county outside Metro Atlanta.  That puts us on a list with places like Savannah, St. Simons Island, Blue Ridge, Helen, Athens, and Thomasville.  We are not on that list because we are just a community of apartments, Dollar Generals, and Waffle Houses as some people like to pretend.

Tourism is an industry.  Industry means jobs and tax revenue.  Jobs bring people, tax revenue brings a better way of life.  People and a better way of life mean growth.  Simply put, cities and communities either grow or they wither away.  I know which one I would rather have.  I know which one any small city in Georgia would rather have.  If you want to see restaurants and shopping in our community then you want to see growth too.  Small businesses do not open in places without opportunities.  The big chain restaurants that some people want to see do not open in places without opportunities.

LaGrange and Troup County are growing and that means good things are happening here.  Be proud of what we are building and of the fact that we are attracting visitors from near and far.  Be proud of our community and if you are not, then do something to make a difference and help transform this community into something that makes you proud.  Participate in community activities.  Volunteer to serve those less fortunate.  Attend public meetings.  Vote.  If you see something wrong, fix it.  Just do us all a favor and stop hiding behind your phone or your keyboard.  Snarky, negative comments will not bring the change you claim you want.  Action will.