Arkansas Economic Development Commission

Tourism in the Natural State Ushers in Economic Growth

September 19, 2017

AEDC tourism sparks economic growthEvery state has a story to tell. For Arkansas, that story is enriched by the people and places around the state that make Arkansas unparalleled for the thousands of visitors who visit each year – many of whom eventually find their own stories entwined the state’s rich cultural history. 

For Arkansas to grow and prosper in the 21st century, a healthy and diverse economy is vital, and one of the industries in which Arkansas has continually thrived is travel and tourism. The industry combines with emerging industries such as steel production, tech sectors and advanced manufacturing, and works side-by-side with more traditional economic drivers such as agriculture and timber.

In 2016, in-state and out-of-state tourists spent approximately $7.6 billion in Arkansas. Those expenditures resulted in almost 66,000 direct jobs for Arkansans in travel and tourism with many more indirectly employed.  It also added $393.5 million in taxes for general revenue.

“The tourism industry is a reliable source of income for the state of Arkansas,” said Kane Webb, director of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism.

The year 1989 was a turning point for Arkansas’ tourism industry. That’s when collection of the two percent tourism tax began. The tax has grown annually and generates revenue to promote the state.

“The competition for tourism dollars is intense,” Webb said. “The two percent tax gives us the resources we need to attract visitors to the state without tapping into the state’s general revenue, and to be a major contributor to Arkansas’ economy.”

Mike Preston, executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, says opportunities that tourism offers represent a key selling point as his department works to lure industry to the state.

“Our parks and tourism industry helps us to tell the complete Arkansas story to businesses that we work hard to recruit,” Preston said. “While cost issues for land, people and infrastructure will always be primary, one can’t discount the importance of quality of life concerns.  We’re asked about it often.”

Unlike a generation ago when people would move to a city or town because that’s where the job was located, today’s Millennial generation decides where to live based on the quality of life amenities they find desirable.  They then worry about finding a job later. 

Political and economic leaders throughout the state recognize this societal change and are looking well beyond the traditional parameters for making living and working in Arkansas desirable.

“As a state, we are truly blessed with the natural resources available to us: the mountains, the lakes and rivers, and the scenic beauty of the state, but those things just aren’t enough anymore, “said Joe David Rice, Arkansas’ Tourism Director. “So, Arkansas has been very diligent in offering attractive urban living options, convenient transportation alternatives and exciting dining and entertainment venues.”

Arkansas’ state parks system is second to none and hosts almost 10 million visitors every year. For the adventurists, mountain biking trails are being developed throughout northwest Arkansas and around Hot Springs. The Spring River in north Arkansas is well-known for rafting. And, rock climbing is a popular activity in the Ozark and Ouachita Mountains.

For tourists who desire something more subdued, there’s Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, which draws more than a half-million people annually, the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock and the Johnny Cash Museum in northeast Arkansas.

“Our mission at AEDC is to bring jobs to Arkansas,” Preston stated. “The amenities we have to offer are part of the experience that employers want to provide for employees because it leads to a happy and productive workforce.”

Arkansas is known for its ease of doing business, its strong incentives program and its skilled and eager workforce.  However, that list is not complete without the inclusion of the quality of life we have to offer.  And, we have the travel and tourism industry to thank for that. Together, we look forward to building a better Arkansas.