To support the recovery, growth and resiliency of the tourism sector in the greater Rockford area, including Winnebago & Boone Counties, the Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau has received a grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration to assist with developing a Destination Master Plan. The competitive grant comes from the Travel, Tourism, and Outdoor Recreation Program funded through the American Rescue Plan.
The EDA’s $277,500 investment award will go towards creating a plan that, once completed and implemented, will assist in the region's recovery and make it more resilient to fluctuations in tourism, which will help increase employment opportunities, spur private investment, and advance economic resiliency throughout the region.
“This grant will allow the RACVB to create a plan to increase and improve the region’s tourism economy which, in turn, creates a stronger community to live and work in,” explained RACVB president/CEO John Groh. “We are grateful to the EDA for their confidence in RACVB to carry out this work. As we conduct research and planning, we will involve the community and look toward what is needed in the future by identifying gaps in our current tourism product, understanding potential future visitor audiences, creating an equitable and accessible tourism ecosystem and identifying opportunities to grow a resilient tourism economy.”
“In the past decade, the RACVB has done great work in turning the region into a desirable destination for visitors and our residents,” said Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara. “I’m excited to see how this grant aids and extends their efforts.”
With stakeholder and public input, the Destination Master Plan will assess, consider and make recommendations related to items such as a Product Analysis and Current Asset Inventory (including outdoor recreation offerings, hotel and meeting spaces, sports facilities, wayfinding, events and festivals, transportation assets, arts and culture, etc.), Current Visitor Profiles and Demographics, Destination Performance, Future Needs Assessment, and Recommendations for Implementation.
With pandemic-driven changes to both consumer travel sentiment and sporting competitions, taking a long view of tourism is needed more than ever. Tourism is a major industry in the Rockford region, and all benefit from building back to and beyond 2019 levels when tourism in Winnebago County generated $483.2 million in direct spending ($851.1 million in total spending) and supported over 6,300 jobs. There is now a significant gap to close from the low in 2020, when tourism direct spending in Winnebago County declined by over 25% percent, with a loss of over 500 jobs.
“This grant will help get the region’s tourism economy get back to where it was and spark a growth trajectory for years to come,” said Winnebago County Board Chairman Joe Chiarelli.
The Travel, Tourism, and Outdoor Recreation program is designed to help accelerate the recovery of the travel, tourism and outdoor recreation industry and build back the communities that depend on the industry. This program, totaling $750 million, included $510 million for states and territories and $240 million for competitive grants. EDA grants are awarded through a competitive process based upon the application’s merit, the applicant’s eligibility, and the availability of funds. More information on EDA’s grant process and investment process can be found at www.eda.gov