A few weeks ago, I had a chance to meet Michael Landry, head of LIGO Hanford Observatory. He was part of the discovery team that detected gravitational waves that were created when two black holes collided 1.3 billion light years from earth. No one had ever “heard” the sound of gravity waves before, but with them, the understanding of our universe grew exponentially. The three key scientists who headed the research were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics.
As I toured the Hanford Observatory, my simple mind may have been overwhelmed by the science, but my soul was completely energized by the passion I felt in Michael as he shared the joy in discovery. I felt I understood my place in the universe just a little bit better that day, and I wanted to know more.
The LIGO story is just one example of the unexpected and unimaginable opportunities of discovery there are for visitors and residents in the Tri-Cities. As locals, we sometimes downplay or overlook the magic of curiosity right before us. Like gravitational waves, some of the more meaningful experiences float past us undetected, and we miss opportunities to experience, learn from and share them. At times, we’re too busy to notice. Perhaps it’s all too close for us to see. But maybe we simply haven’t been tuned in to the possibilities.
The Tri-Cities is a premier destination filled with diverse and unique attractions and activities. Those who visit here notice an uncommon pulse of positive energy that seems to originate in our people. With that pulse comes a collection of communities thriving with vitality and purpose. I’ve only been here three months, but wherever I go, I seem to encounter people like Michael who emanate with the spirit of exploration. The people are friendly, the drive for success is strong, and the assortment of activities that surround us is refreshing.
You might not really think much about what visitors mean to the dynamics of our community, but when people come to vacation, to attend a conference, or to play a softball game, they bring an amazing boost to our economy. Tourism is the top of the economic funnel that brings in outside money to local businesses, supports new jobs and attracts new business. It plays an essential role in stimulating economic growth, cultivating a diverse and thriving community, and improving quality of life for those of us who live here.
Thanks to the unique mix of sun, the rivers, the wineries and craft brewing scene, the World War II history and more, visitors bring nearly $500 million into the area each year. The top spending categories include food and beverage, retail, recreation, hotels and transportation, but the money spent at these businesses ripples through the community over and over again. All of this produces sales tax revenue that helps improve our roads, schools, police forces and more. The tourism and hospitality industry creates more than 4,700 jobs in Benton and Franklin counties, and the suppliers and developers who support tourism businesses generate even more. Tax revenue from visitors and tourism businesses gets invested back into our recreation assets, which improves our quality of life, and, thanks to these tax revenues, our personal taxes actually decrease by more than $500 per household each year.
When visitors come here for a convention or sports event, they get a taste of what our communities are like – and they seem to appreciate it. Sixty percent of our visitors come back again. Many of them return with their families for vacation, and some even move here and set up their own businesses.
As the president and CEO of Visit Tri-Cities, I get the opportunity to promote the destination and celebrate everything that is right with the area. Our team’s efforts inspire visitation and support our hospitality partners and visitor attractions. We collaborate with community leaders and foster development to enhance the destination and quality of life. We even have a role in employee recruitment. By showcasing the active lifestyle and adventure activities we have here, we help our economic partners recruit the quality people they need. All these efforts fuel the engine that keeps our local economy running.
The Tri-Cities is lucky to have hotels that are conveniently located next to the attractions and activities that draw visitors, whether it’s shopping, sports stadiums, the waterfront, or within a quick drive of tasting rooms, breweries and outdoor recreation. On top of that, we have world-class wineries, breweries and distilleries that are constantly innovating and bringing fresh and new ideas to the table, literally and figuratively. We’re lucky enough to live in one of the most fertile regions of Washington state, so the food is what you’d expect – abundant and fresh. With everything from casual restaurants, ethnic eateries and pubs, to cozy cafes and fine dining, the Tri-City restaurant scene has something for everyone.
Maybe it’s because the LIGO experience is still resonating through my system, but I have a distinct affinity for some of the more unique experiences only available here.
I love outdoor recreation. I’m enthralled with the rivers, and when you can combine those elements with the brilliant minds in our communities and our cultural pursuit of discovery, you have a destination unlike anywhere else.
How many destinations can boast having the world’s first full-scale nuclear reactor to operate in world history – a reactor you can actually stand inside of?
Where else can you tour a facility started by Nobel prize-winning scientists that “listens” for the gravitational waves caused by colliding neutron stars a billion light years away?
How many places are there with the creative and scientific grasp for growing like we have here, where you can wander through vineyards and sip from the wine produced from the same grapes?
We encourage you to experience and cheer for the hospitality businesses here in the Tri-Cities. What they have created in this destination is truly remarkable.
Contemplate the mysteries of the universe. Toast the wineries. Savor the food. Consider the past. Seek out the future. Embrace the energy of the skies. Soak in the sunshine. Feel the flow of the river. Let the passion of our people move you. And when you sense the wave of the universe, let the world know how it touched you.
Kevin Lewis is the president and chief executive officer of Visit Tri-Cities.
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