By Susan Redden
Globe Staff Writer
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Two local lawmakers were a bit of a captive audience Thursday when they were guests at a legislative luncheon put on by the Carthage Convention and Visitors Bureau.
State Reps. Tom Flanigan, of Carthage, and Charlie Davis, of Webb City, attended the gathering designed to highlight the importance of tourism in the region.
Representatives of U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt and U.S. Rep. Billy Long also were guests at the luncheon, which was attended by members of the Carthage and Joplin city councils, the Carthage Chamber of Commerce, the Joplin and Carthage convention and visitors bureaus, and the Joplin Sports Authority.
The luncheon was the third annual event organized by Wendi Douglas, executive director of the Carthage bureau. It was aimed at fostering communication between local officials and lawmakers, and at boosting the profile of the local tourism industry. It also was the third time that Katie Danner, director of the Missouri Division of Tourism, had come to Carthage for the gathering.
In Missouri, tourism is an $11 billion industry that employs 275,000 workers, Douglas said. She said the Carthage and Joplin tourism organizations work together and collaborate with the state to bring more visitors to the region. She urged those in attendance to join her in writing a letter to Gov. Jay Nixon calling for a $5 million increase in the state division’s budget.
“We want to show legislators how tourism translates into jobs and community impact,” Douglas said.
The budgets of most state departments were cut when the economy went into a recession five years ago. Danner said the Tourism Division’s budget has been cut from $24 million to $14 million in recent years. She said spending to advertise Missouri tourism in international markets also has been cut, from $3 million to $100,000.
“We have to compete with other departments in the state for discretionary income,” she said. “Then we have to compete with other states to bring tourists to Missouri.” The division is part of the Department of Economic Development.
Danner said the competition is a challenge, particularly with Gulf Coast states using money from BP, as a result of the oil spill in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico, to boost their tourism budgets.
Patrick Tuttle, Joplin Convention and Visitors Bureau director, said Joplin will be the site of the International Route 66 Festival next August. Visitors are expected from across the U.S and 14 foreign countries.
“When foreign visitors want to see the iconic America, that means Route 66,” Danner said. “And Sen. (Blunt) has been a champion for international tourism.”
Those in attendance also heard comments from Reps. Davis and Flanigan, including comments on budget prospects from Flanigan, who is vice chairman of the House Budget Committee.
He said the consensus revenue estimate projects that state income will grow by 3.1 percent. But, he said, the federal fiscal cliff could cause a drop in state revenues, while demand for state funding will grow if Medicaid rolls are expanded and education funding is increased.
A retirement reception honoring Jasper County Sheriff Archie Dunn was held Friday at Fairview Christian Church in Carthage.
Dunn served as sheriff for 9 1/2 years after first being appointed to fill a vacancy created when Sheriff Bill Pierce stepped down after an investigation launched by the Missouri attorney general’s office. Dunn lost a re-election bid to Randee Kaiser in the Republican primary earlier this year.
While he was sheriff, Dunn led efforts to propose a quarter-cent law enforcement sales tax, including raising money that put the measure before county voters. After the measure was passed in 2005, he used the increased funds to expand and upgrade the department, including boosting workers’ pay and improving equipment and technology in the department.
Dunn had retired from the Missouri State Highway Patrol before accepting the sheriff’s post.
SUSAN REDDEN is a staff writer for the Globe. She can be reached at email@example.com or 417-623-3480, ext. 7258. Follow her on Twitter @Susan_Redden.