‘Tourism is economic development’

Marshall County ranked in top quarter of Iowa counties for traveler expenditures

T-R FILE PHOTOS The Marshalltown Convention and Visitors Bureau works to bring in and promote tourism in Marshalltown and Marshall County, including Oktemberfest, the Mid-Iowa Antique Power Show and the Holiday Stroll.

A recent study of Iowa travelers shows Marshall County’s tourism numbers are increasing.

“Marshall County in 2016 … was at $89 million; that’s a pretty significant figure,” said Marshalltown Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (CVB) Executive Director Val Ruff of the amount of money spent by those traveling to and through Marshall County that year. “We’re 16th out of 99 counties.”

The $89.61 million traveler expenditure figure for the county was found in a U.S. Travel Association study titled “The Economic Impact of Travel on Iowa Counties 2016,” and represents a 3.41 percent increase over 2015 traveler spending.

The study was prepared for the Iowa Economic Development Authority of the Iowa Tourism Office.

“Maybe because of our location … people are coming through here, and we are getting tourism dollars,” Ruff said. “We know that, of these $89 million, (the CVB) is touching probably 30 percent of that, we’re touching that in some capacity.”

She said that 30 percent includes grant funding and hospitality measures like maps and welcome bags, among other things. The CVB works to bring visitors into the area for events like Oktemberfest, the Mid-Iowa Antique Power Show, art festivals, meetings, conventions and more.

Ruff said Marshall County’s ranking of 16th in the state may be explained by location. For instance, she said some businesses and corporations have offices in more than one city in Iowa and need a place to “meet in the middle.”

“An example is if they have an office in Des Moines and they have an office in Cedar Falls or Waterloo, they’ll meet here,” Ruff said. “We have a lot of global corporations that bring travelers and their employees into our community.”

However, she said the county’s easy driving distance from the Eastern Corridor cities, Des Moines and Ames can also be a challenge.

“People have a lot of opportunity,” Ruff said. “Here, you’ve got some choices, so I feel like we work a little bit harder for people to come here and choose us.”

Marshalltown Regional Partnership CEO Dave Barajas said it was good to see Ruff and Marshall Economic Development (MED) Executive Director Tom Deimerly represent the area at the Travel Federation of Iowa Legislative Luncheon in Des Moines earlier this year.

“That’s nice because a lot of people try to separate tourism and economic development, and that’s not the case at all,” he said. “Tourism is economic development, and that’s why it’s so extremely important, the work that Val and her team does on a daily basis.”

Barajas said the tourism dollars brought into the area help boost revenue for local government and businesses, be it through taxes or sales.

“If they come here, to our community, for an event, and they have a good, solid experience … every time they hear ‘Marshalltown,’ that’s what they’re going to think about,” he said. “And that’s going to help our overall perception level, which is going to help city hall, which is going to help our education system.”

Ruff said this month brings several high-profile events to the Marshalltown area, including the YMCA State Swim Meet last weekend, volleyball tournaments, the Sábado de Gloria Festival at the Central Iowa Fairgrounds and more.

“We’re instrumental in making sure that these folks that come in have the resources they need when they get here, whether it’s a visitor’s guide, whether it’s the brand new dining guide that we have out there,” she said of the CVB helping event groups. “However we can help them entertain and host our guests, we want to make sure we do our best.”

Ruff said the CVB also lets local businesses like restaurants, convenience stores and hotels know when big events are coming to the area. This is meant to prepare them for the influx of visitors.

To continue growing the area’s tourism potential, Ruff said hosting events and meetings locally will help.

“If individuals are part of a social organization, or you’re part of a group, and you know there are opportunities to have a meeting or convention … consider Marshalltown as that location for your group to come and meet,” she said. “Those are the things that help us, by bringing that extra revenue into the community, by hosting meetings and conventions or sporting events and tournaments here.”

She added that the Iowa River Trail may draw people to the Marshalltown area in coming years.

Barajas said there are many areas of opportunity in Marshalltown and Marshall County.

“There are opportunities in the arts and culture arena that we really haven’t tapped into yet as a community,” he said.

Both Ruff and Barajas said a lot of emphasis is placed on being good “ambassadors” for the area at the Marshalltown Regional Partnership.

“When folks do come to Marshalltown, they leave here pleasantly surprised at their experience that they had,” Ruff said. “We’ve got a lot of good things and there are a lot of good initiatives that are going on.”


Contact Adam Sodders at (641) 753-6611 or asodders@timesrepublican.com