State needs to take action to support tourism infrastructure
State leaders need to take action now in order to ensure the tourism industry survives a snowless winter.
There are a handful of things you can count on in the world. Among them are death, taxes and cold and snowy winters in Wisconsin. Because folks in Wisconsin are industrious, they have turned the fact that for half the year your face hurts when you go outside from being a negative to being a positive and have built strong tourismbased industries encouraging people to enjoy the cold and the snow.
Wisconsin embraces its well-earned reputation as a winter wonderland with ice fishing, snowmobiling, skiing, snowshoeing and tubing as just a handful of the activities people enjoy doing when the temperature is cold. In normal winters, it would be common to see long caravans of snowmobilers headed to the well-developed trail system of the northern counties. Lakes of any size would have entire villages of fishing shacks, from humble shelters to luxurious fishing palaces.
Most importantly, with those winter tourists comes their money. The winter tourism industry brings with it an influx of millions of dollars of tourism revenue each year. A historically mild winter, such as the one we are experiencing, has tourism-dependent businesses and events on the ropes.
Economic development leaders in a seven-county region in northern Wisconsin’s typical snowbelt have estimated the region lost about $6.5 million in revenue due to a lack of snow in December and January. According to the Let’s Minocqua Visitors Bureau and Oneida County Tourism Council, local businesses in the area are reporting between 75 and 80 percent year-over-year losses.
There are risks in every business and those dependent on outdoor tourism in Wisconsin are keenly aware of the risks they face every day. However, a snowless winter in Wisconsin and temperatures mild enough for the maple sap to start running in January are far outside the realm of ordinary risk.
The abnormal weather poses an existential crisis for tourism dependent businesses with the very real risk that many will not survive the winter. This will cascade through communities as the flow of money from travelers ceases, impacting everyone. The major risk is the destruction of tourism infrastructure, making any future growth impossible.
Wisconsin needs to invest to keep tourism infrastructure afloat, especially in northern Wisconsin, in light of an unusually mild winter. This should be done through focused grants to tourism related business and organizations impacted by the lack of snow. It could be patterned on the highly successful Main Street Bounceback state grant program which helped spur growth and recovery following the pandemic.
Wisconsin can well-afford investing in targeted programs to ensure the survival of the tourism industry impacted by the devastatingly mild winter. The state ended the last fiscal year with $7 billion in undesignated fund balance. It is projected to finish the current fiscal year with another $4 billion surplus.
Wisconsin leaders need to take swift, bipartisan action and use some of these funds to provide emergency grant assistance to allow tourism-impacted businesses to keep their lights on and their workers employed as the state rides out the wildly mild winter season.