PRT shows importance in the face of shrinking state budget

While state agencies continue to look for ways to cut their budgets, confronted by shrinking state revenues, South Carolina’s tourism officials point out that their department has a tremendous return on investment for the state. Parks, Recreation and Tourism officials spoke during Governor Mark Sanford’s budget hearing Monday. Tourism had a $17.2 billion total impact generated on the state’s economy last year.
Parks, Recreation and Tourism Director of Governmental Affairs Toni Nance points out that the state benefits from tourism in other ways as well. She says tourism contributes considerably to quality of life, which is a major draw for large and small industrial and business prospects.
“You talk to any site consultant from a corporate manufacturing headquarters,” said Nance.  “Quality of life is something being considered by folks who invest in South Carolina.  With what PRT does, it has an impact not just on tourism but on the greater scope of economic development.” 
Nance says more than $1.2 billion in state and local taxes are generated by South Carolina’s tourism. The size of the state’s tourism industry is also demonstrated by the number of employees, since 12.6 percent of all the employees in state government work for PRT.
But PRT has taken its punches like all state agencies in recent years. While the department’s administration, prior to 2003,once occupied most of the first and second floors of the Edgar Brown building located behind the statehouse, now it’s nestled in half of the second floor alone. The state’s Film Commission office has been transferred from the Department of Commerce to PRT and now resides on the fifth floor of the Brown building. the film office was previously under PRT before it’s trip to the Commerce Department.
The state’s biggest tourism engines are located in Horry, Charleston ad Beaufort Counties, which includes Hilton Head. But Nance emphasizes that there are other areas in the state have plenty of tourist trade, including Orangeburg, which itself generated $150 million dollars in domestic travel last year.  Orangeburg is crossed by interstates 95 and 26. But there are 12 counties where tourism has an impact of more than $100 million each year.
PRT spokesman Marion Edmonds says all residents of the state benefit from the infrastructure and businesses which generate tourist trade and increase quality of life.  “It’s the restaurants, sports venues and natural areas that we all get to take advantage of and share as residents,” he said.  “When you look at the shopping on King Street or on the Westend of Greenville.  That’s supported in part by the visitors who come there.” 
Edmonds points out that the tourism trade saves South Carolina taxpayers an average of more than $720 per household.  “”It’s over $700 on average per household that’s reduced in their tax burden by people who come to visit, and go home happy.  They’ll come again.  And yet they help defray the costs of our education, health care police protection and roads.”
In speaking to the Governor, Nance talked about the state’s “flexibility proviso”, implemented to give state agencies more flexibility in applying available revenue where it’s needed the most for agency operations, to avoid harmful cuts.
But Nance says the down side of the proviso is that it protects marketing funds, which can’t be used for anything else. At the same time, Nance says marketing is very important to PRT, and unlike many states, South Carolina continues to advertise what it has to offer, keeping the tourist dollar flowing.
Nance says that her agency’s diligence in following Governor Mark Sanford’s emphasis on tight budget tactics beginning with his administration really helped PRT through the last year’s increasingly lean budget.