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Minnesota lawmakers weigh $6 million boost to state's tourism industry

The push comes after tourism and hospitality industry businesses saw a hit from the pandemic and state efforts to curb it.

Ruud cereal box.PNG
State Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022, lifts an Explore Minnesota cereal box during a hearing about her bill to send grants out to tourism businesses.
Screen capture from a Minnesota Senate hearing
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ST. PAUL — A Minnesota Senate panel on Wednesday, Feb. 16, moved forward a $6 million plan to support tourism businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

On a voice vote, the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources Policy advanced the bill to another panel. And members expressed bipartisan backing for sending grants out to hospitality and tourism businesses.

The proposal would spend $6 million in state general funds to set up a grant fund through Explore Minnesota. Tourism businesses hit by the pandemic and the state's efforts to curb it would then be able to use the money to help them attract conventions, meetings, events and marketing efforts.

Tourism industry officials said the pandemic had disproportionately affected hospitality and tourism in the state since nonessential travel was temporarily halted in 2020 and demand for restaurants, lodging and public events abruptly fell off.

“The tourism and hospitality industry was the first sector shut down at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and while there’s been some recovery in the industry, that recovery has not been consistent," Minnesota Tourism Growth Coalition Lobbyist Sarah Psick said. "There have been multiple starts and stops and recovery is not even."

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Tourism industry leaders said the grants could help businesses and cities compete for event and business conference traffic as the pandemic's course improves. They said neighboring states had already launched marketing and ad campaigns to attract new visitors.

“This business is starting to come back," Mike Schwieters, manager of Boyd’s Lodge in Crosslake, said. "We need to go after those guests that are looking for places to travel."

The bill's author Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, lifted up an Explore Minnesota cereal box and a photo of the signing ceremony creating Explore Minnesota, the state's tourism agency, to highlight lawmakers' work in promoting Minnesota tourism.

"We've really come a long way with tourism, realizing what an important economic engine it is for the state of Minnesota," Ruud said.

And she said there was a strong sense of support among lawmakers for reinvigorating the industry.

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Several incumbent state legislators, particularly in the Senate, edged out competitors with more extreme views on COVID-19, election security and more.

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter  @bydanaferguson , call 651-290-0707 or email  dferguson@forumcomm.com.

Dana Ferguson is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. Ferguson has covered state government and political stories since she joined the news service in 2018, reporting on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the divided Statehouse and the 2020 election.
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