I can’t blame the Faribault County Commissioners for turning down a request to fund a membership in the Southern Minnesota Tourism Association recently.
After all, this is a time of budget cuts; not exactly a time for increasing the budget.
Oh sure, an argument could be made that $500 certainly is not going to make a big dent in a multi-million dollar county budget.
And, one can certainly point out that while the County Board is talking about making cuts, they are still adding some expenses. This past week, for instance, they increased their funding support for the Sentence to Serve program — a very worthwhile project, of course.
Then there is the matter of tourism itself.
Admittedly, tourism is not the top priority in Faribault County as far as the commissioners are concerned.
There isn't a National Park with a geyser going off every half hour. In fact, there isn't even a State Park located in the county. There are county parks, but they cater a lot to area folks.
There are not a lot of lakes, and not even one big resort to pull in the tourists.
Head to northern Minnesota with its thousands of lakes and hundreds of resorts to see what resorts mean to tourism about. Or south to Okoboji in Iowa.
This is not to say, however, that tourism is non-existent in Faribault County. There are out of area visitors to each one of the towns in the county, especially during each one of their big tourist events. I mean, of course, their summer celebrations.
Those events are geared to try and attract people to come to the town and ‘visit.’ Certainly there are more people who attend Easton Friendship Days than just the couple of hundred people who live in Easton.
Local museums, concerts, plays, parks, pools and golf courses are also important pieces to the county’s tourism business. They all draw their fair share of visitors.
The county fair, too, is a tourist attraction. Sure, it is primarily meant as a county-wide get together, but there are many folks from the Fairmont, Mankato and Albert Lea areas who come over to attend. And this year, with the Sesquicentennial Fair, I would predict even more attendance from those outside of the county borders.
Then there is the number one tourist hot spot in Faribault County. I refer, of course, to the Green Giant statue in Blue Earth.
I know there are people in Blue Earth, and around the county, who poke fun at the big guy. They think of him as being a bit cheesy. After all, he is 60 feet tall, green and dressed in some sort of too-short, leafy tunic.
Locals sometimes laugh at all the visitors who stop to have their picture taken underneath the statue. Some smugly seem to indicate they have never done such a thing.
But, let’s face facts here. As Shelly Greimann, Blue Earth Chamber of Commerce executive director, tells it, the Green Giant statue is a really big (no pun intended) tourist draw.
Thousands of people exit off of I-90 each year and pull into Blue Earth to stop, see the jolly green guy, and snap a photograph of themselves with the giant piece of Fiberglass.
It’s true, not all of them do much more than that. But, some do. They travel around the county looking for things to do.
Some might hit the gas stations, restaurants or motels along the Highway 169 strip off of the freeway. Others may head north or south, off the freeway.
But, they were here. They may have picked up a souvenir, and with any luck at all, a brochure describing the area.
A recent nationwide survey asked respondents which advertising character they have heard of the most. Number three on the list was the Green Giant.
That means a lot of people say they know who the giant is. And when they see there is a place to stop and see him ‘live’ and close up, they do.
Last year it was from every state in the union, and a dozen foreign countries as well.
Paul Johnson, CEO of Express Diagnostics in Blue Earth, says he has customers coming to his facility from across the country and around the world.
They all, he says, want to go see the Giant statue and have their picture taken there.
Cheesy or not, it is a big part of the local tourism promotion.
Once travelers stop to see the Giant statue, it is a prime time to let them know what else is going on in Faribault County.
Because, there is a lot going on here.