Letter: Port erred in his reporting on the ND tourism budget

Charley Johnson was named the incoming President and CEO of the Fargo Moorhead CVB. Carrie Snyder / The Forum
Charley Johnson was named the incoming President and CEO of the Fargo Moorhead CVB. Carrie Snyder / The Forum

Two things: First and foremost, I’m writing to back up former North Dakota Rep. Roscoe Streyle’s well-written piece in support of all things travel and tourism, including the proposal for the state to provide funding aimed at securing a much larger private match for a Theodore Roosevelt Library and Museum at Medora. I believe that project is worthy of Legacy Fund dollars and would bring many new visitors to the state. I also believe, however, that if there can be funding for the library and museum there should be a way to add at least $2 million to the appropriation for the Tourism Division of the Commerce Department during the upcoming biennium. For the record, local CVBs, including the one I represent, do not receive any funding from the state.

On their own, tourism and travel are probably the purest form of economic development, since visitors leave some of their money behind when they go home. But tourism marketing also lifts the national and international profile of the entire state, including for purposes of economic and workforce development. A visit is the “first date” of an economic relationship. People who visit North Dakota are far more likely to consider working, living or starting a business here. The governor’s proposed annual budget for the Tourism Division is approximately $5 million. I’m not asking legislators to match the $15 million-plus each surrounding state spends each year, I’m just asking them to provide their team with more resources.

Second, I’d like to address a recent blog post by Forum columnist Rob Port. In it, he refers to a recent audit of reserve funds in the state, and incorrectly suggests that the tourism division has enough money squirreled away to operate for 30 years. First, the blogger clearly didn’t bother to research the current tourism budget or do any calculations on his own, since the audit report, attached to his article, says the tourism reserve fund currently contains $1,020,292, or about 20-percent of the current annual budget. Divide that by 30 years, and you get a monthly spend of $2,834. Not enough to keep the lights on, I'm guessing? Then, in a so-called "update", he cites “confusion” over the calculation, and still fails to use the available figures to put it into true perspective. Sadly, my travel industry colleagues around the state are finding out that some lawmakers are apparently taking this misleading report at face value. Please help us debunk this gross misinterpretation of the facts.