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Tourists spent more than $928 million in Lake County in 2017

Natalia Rys, left, of Chicago, reacts after catching her pierogi and successfully winning Pierogi Fest's Pierogi Toss in Whiting in July. Rys won with her partner, Rolando Araujo, also of Chicago. Visitors spend more than $928 million in Lake County in 2017, 2.2 percent more than the previous year and second most statewide.

Tourists spent more than $928 million in Lake County in 2017 and had an estimated economic impact of $663 million, according to a new study.

The Indiana Office of Tourism Development and Tourism hired Rockport Analytics to study the impact of tourism to Lake County destinations such as the casinos, craft breweries, the Shrine of Christ's Passion, Whihala Beach, the WhoaZone floating water park, Deep River Water Park, Pierogi Fest and the New Year's Eve Pierogi Drop that was aired on ABC 7 and widely discussed on social media across Chicagoland.

The study found visitors to Lake County spent $325.4 million on entertainment and recreation, $201.7 million on transportation, $158.3 million on food and beverage, $147.5 million on shopping and $95.3 million on lodging in 2017, the most recent year for which data were available.

“The South Shore's hospitality industry continues to grow, benefit the economy with millions of dollars of visitor spending, offer savings on taxes to residents and employ thousands of employees throughout the Region," South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority CEO Speros Batistatos said. "New attractions and investments like the Mascot Hall of Fame in Whiting, Bulldog Park in Crown Point and Edge Adventure Park in Merrillville provide more opportunities for guests to stay longer during their visit."

Batistatos said the South Shore CVA has aggressively pursued sporting events that bring visitors to play baseball, basketball, table tennis, volleyball and soccer, among others. He said investments like Hammond's new Sportsplex will offer additional opportunities to attract amateur and professional athletic events to the area.

The tourism industry supported 13,953 total jobs in Lake County in 2017, paying $420.5 million in wages and proprietor income, according to the study. Visitors paid $102 million in state and local taxes, or about $0.11 out of every dollar spent.

About 71 cents out of every dollar spent by tourists stayed in Lake County, according to the study.

Lake County ranked second out of Indiana's 92 counties in visitor spending, trailing only Marion, according to the study. In 2017, visitors spend $1,911.44 per capita in the state's second most populous county.

Tourism spending grew by 2.2 percent in Lake County in 2017, which was behind the 3.8 percent growth in the Indianapolis metro area and the 3.7 percent growth statewide. Indiana attracted a record 80 million visitors and $12.7 billion in visitor spending last year, according to the Indiana Office of Tourism Development.

Lake County saw a 6.7 percent increase in hotel revenue, indicating more overnight stays. Food and beverage spending also was up by 4.9 percent year-over-year. Rockport Analytics found the tourism benefited several local sectors, including arts, transportation, food services, retail trade, real estate and accommodations.

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.