Visitors to Lake County spent $908 million in our economy during 2016. That number is not insignificant and it’s time our region recognizes the importance visitor spending has on our communities.

Tens of thousands of amateur athletes visit the South Shore annually for competitions, tournaments and even the World Series of softball. Whoa Zone, the area’s newest attraction welcomed more than 15,000 people in the first year. Visitors came from 15 states and as far away as Austria and Japan. Those seeking entertainment and gaming visit our lakefront casinos. Hundreds of thousands make a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Christ’s Passion and the Indiana Dunes.

Visitors positively impact our economy by spending dollars in every corner of our communities; they help create new jobs and enhance our quality of place. New businesses will open when our economy thrives. The ripple of travel and tourism will be felt in every home and every business whether you work with steel or manage a bank.

I invite you to join our symposium Feb. 7 with South Shore Leadership to discuss visitor spending and the importance of travel in our communities. The closing of the Radisson Hotel and Star Plaza Theatre has a number of people asking the question, “What next?” We hope to inspire every individual at this year’s “Vision Project and the Power of Visitor Spending.”

We will dive into a number of topics on travel and tourism including: how travel improves your quality of place; how the NCAA Division II University becomes a travel magnet; the economics of tourism. Guest speakers have been invited from all over the Midwest to join the conversation and help us answer the question, “What next?” Leaders from Whiting, Crown Point, Rockford (IL), Grand Rapids (MI) among others will share their success stories as well as challenges they’ve faced when building a travel destination.

I have been asked to emcee this year’s Vision Project because I’ve felt the impact tourism has had on my community, business and quality of life. I sit next to visitors at restaurants, drive next to them on the road and enjoyed a number of attractions and festivals with them. In fact, you’ve felt their impact, too. Those visitors save us more than $500 on our taxes each year! I want to attract more visitors because it will help our region grow. I hope you will join us Feb. 7 at the Halls of St. George to discuss the future of Northwest Indiana and the impact it has on our community.

Tickets for the Vision Project can be purchased online at Eventbrite.com.

Michael E. Schrage is president and CEO of Merrillville-based Centier Bank. The opinions are the writer’s.

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Porter/LaPorte County Editor

Porter/LaPorte Editor Doug Ross, an award-winning writer, has been covering Northwest Indiana for more than 35 years, including more than a quarter of a century at The Times.