According to an economic impact analysis report from the Montana Heritage Commission, Virginia City and Nevada City once again saw record tourist numbers in 2017. The report, which was completed through Circle Analytics/Northern Rocky Mountain Economic Development District, stated an estimated 582,304 visitors toured the historic boardwalk, contributing $45.3 million to Madison County.
“This study seeks to measure the economic impacts of the Montana Heritage Commission and its related activities in Virginia City and Nevada City,” stated the report. “It shows at the combined impacts of the Montana Heritage Commission exceed $74.6 million and include its annual operations, visitor spending for the year 2017 and improvements made by the commission since 1997 … of these impacts, the majority of $45.3 million are retained in the local county.”
Montana Heritage Commission Executive Director Elijah Allen said Virginia City and Nevada City continue to be economic drivers for the state.
“We’re about preserving our heritage and promoting it as well and this (study) definitely demonstrates we are a strong economic driver for the state,” he said, adding the traffic count was up 5 percent from last year.
While the data for this report mostly comes from figures and visitor and traffic counts from the MHC, NRMEDD analyzes the data and generates the report.
“We get traffic numbers and from the commission and then we work with them, making some assumptions for some figures, and also utilize the Institute for Tourism and Recreation,” said Rob Gilmore with NRMEDD about how the study is completed.
Breaking it down
In order to complete the analysis, NRMEDD takes visitor counts from the MHC, and breaks that down into a percentage of visitors utilizing and staying in the local market area and a percentage of those just passing through. Using the state’s rate for a tourist group, 2.7 people per group, those percentages are then applied to different tourist expenditures – gas, lodging, food, retail, etc., thus creating an “economic footprint.”
“An economic footprint is what a tourist spends for hotels, fuels, entertainment and retail expenditures while in Montana that trickle down to Madison County businesses,” said Allen.
Of the estimated 582,304 visitors, nearly 66 percent were from outside the local market, according to the report. Of that 66 percent, half of those visitors spent at least one night in a local hotel. The analysis does not predict additional nights lodging, however extra nights for some visitors were a certainty, according Allen. The report also shows the benefit of 1,226 jobs in the local economy.
The daily spending per visitor group was $161.19 and had been allocated as follows:
- Food related expenses – $41.43 per visitor group day.
- Miscellaneous retail expenses – $43.74 per visitor group day.
- Fuel related expenses – $51.64 per visitor group day.
- Lodging related expenses – $19.01 per visitor group day.
- Automotive related expenses – $5.37 per visitor group day.
Gilmore said he believes economic impact studies, of any sort, are an important tool for both businesses and the state.
“(Economic studies) give the people who make the investment in these things and state legislators and decision makers a tool to understand and value this economy,” Gilmore said.
Toni James owns a gift store and small grocery store in Virginia City and is one of the few who stays open year-round.
“My season was down a bit but I keep being told that happens in an election year,” she said of the 2017 season. “I think throughout Virginia City, a lot of the gift stores were down a bit but it sounds like restaurants, bars and theaters were up.”
James said she continues to run her business because she feels like a part of the town and community.
“Because it’s Virginia City,” she said. “I feel like I’m an important part of the town and the community needs a grocery store that’s open all year – I don’t know who else would be crazy enough to stay open.”
Gilmore said the impact study is often a tool used by local businesses to know what role they play.
“I think it helps some understand the bigger, broader picture and how they fit in in the tourism trade,” Gilmore said. “Dollars invested help everyone and they help maintain the infrastructure – it benefits and raises everyone’s boats.”