Idaho museums provide economic impact, attract business

photo of idaho state museum
The Idaho State Museum recently underwent a $17 million renovation and expansion. Photo by Sharon Fisher.

There’s more to the Idaho State Museum’s recent renovation and expansion than finding a better home for Deja Moo. Increasingly, museums provide a strong economic impact to regions and are amenities businesses expect when looking to move to an area.

The two-headed calf Deja Moo. He is arguably the Idaho State Museum’s most well-known exhibit. Photo by Mark Breske.

“While few dispute museums’ impacts on intangible aspects of a community, it comes as a surprise to many to hear about the economic benefits as well,” said Jeff Carr, director of public relations for the Museum of Idaho in Idaho Falls.

photo of jeff carr
Jeff Carr

Idaho museums have an economic impact of $228 million, according to the American Alliance of Museums, which partnered with Oxford Economics in 2017 on Museums as Economic Engines, to study museums’ contribution to the U.S. economy. That includes 3,098 jobs contributing $179 million in wages and other income, the study noted.

In addition, Idaho museums contribute $46.1 million in tax revenues to federal, state and local governments, including $12.7 million in state and local taxes. And in an increasingly divisive political climate, museums are one thing that almost everyone can agree on: 89 percent of Americans believe that museums provide important economic impacts back to their communities, the study noted.

photo of janet gallimore
Janet Gallimore. Photo by Sharon Fisher.

During its opening weekend, the Idaho State Museum said it had more than 1,000 visitors, and expects to have 115,000 visitors throughout its first year after reopening. Economic development is one of the three reasons museums are important, along with education and telling the story of Idaho in context, said Janet Gallimore, executive director of the Idaho State Historical Society, which operates the Idaho State Museum. To help attract events and performances, the $17 million renovation includes a 170-200 person meeting space, she added.

Museums are an important tool for attracting business, Carr said.

“We’re working with different entities to advertise the museum and its offerings to highly educated and skilled workers and their companies considering moves to Idaho Falls, since studies show those audiences highly value being in communities that support institutions such as museums,” he said. “And, as a region, we want to attract those kind of people. Museum-goers are smart, curious, creative people that contribute to the health, happiness and well-being of all.”

photo of bill conners
Bill Connors

This also applies to Boise.

“Having a wide variety of world class community amenities, like the new State museum, or our universities, parks, arts venues, sports and recreational assets, help us attract and retain talented employees and prospective businesses,” said Bill Connors, president and CEO of the Boise Metro Chamber. “These kind of community assets are foundational in our economic development efforts, and our efforts to keep our community livable, likable and desirable.”

photo of carrie westergard
Carrie Westergard

In addition, museums help attract conventions and tourists. “The Boise Convention and Visitors Bureau relies on a wide array of attractions as we promote our city to visitors,” said Carrie Westergard, executive director of the Boise Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Having a robust museum presence in Boise gives us more to showcase to entice visitors here by connecting them to the culture and history of the area.”

photo of museum of idaho
The Museum of Idaho in Idaho Falls. Photo courtesy of the museum.

The same is true for the Museum of Idaho in Idaho Falls, which is also planning a renovation and expansion, for 2019. The Museum of Idaho contributes about $5 million to the Eastern Idaho economy, according to an economic impact study the museum commissioned in 2009 from the Eastern Idaho Entrepreneurial Center, Carr said.

“This impact came as a result of ticket revenues, money spent by patrons at other businesses in conjunction with their museum visit, and inter-industry spending,” he said.

In addition, the study also concluded that the museum’s presence created or sustained an average of 67 full-time equivalent jobs, although the museum had only 10 full-time and two part-time employees at the time, he said.

The organization is hoping to update the study, Carr said.

“We would anticipate significant improvement in our numbers since then, given increased attendance, and we anticipate more still after the completion of our ongoing expansion,” he said.

Tourism grants up more than 11 percent

Boats and tourists at Payette Lake in McCal this summer. Seven regions of the state received travel grants from the Idaho Travel Council for tourism marketing. Photo by Fiona Montagne.

The Idaho Travel Council distributed more than $5 million in grants this summer to nonprofits in seven regions, as well as statewide, to help further promote travel and tourism in Idaho.

Grants ranged from more than $1 million to the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce, including the Boise Convention and Visitors Bureau, to $26,000 for the Lemhi County Economic Development Association. Statewide grants, amounting to almost $300,000, were awarded to the Idaho Lodging & Restaurant Association, the Idaho Outfitters & Guides Association, the Idaho RV Campgrounds Association, and the Idaho Ski Areas Association. The Boise award was the first ever over $1 million, said Matt Borud, chief marketing and innovation officer for the Commerce Department.

photo of matt borud
Matt Borud

The Travel Council received 28 applications and gave out 27, Borud said. The only applicant that didn’t receive a grant was the Meridian Chamber of Commerce, which instead was funded through the Southwest Idaho Travel Association, he said. Each of the state’s tourism regions except Region 7, which includes Sun Valley, have a regional travel organization to help promote the region, and sometimes it is easier for a nonprofit to work with a regional entity, he said.

photo of carrie westergard
Carrie Westergard

Tourism brings in more than $4 billion annually, making it Idaho’s third-largest industry, said Carrie Westergard, executive director of the Boise Convention and Visitors Bureau. Westergard said tourism employs more than 14,000 people in the Boise area alone. State Tourism development activities are paid for by a 2 percent tax paid by travelers, collected by hotel, motel, vacation rental, and private campground owners, according to the Commerce Department. For fiscal year 2018, which ended July 1, that amounted to $12.4 million, an increase of 11.22 percent over the previous year, Commerce said.

Of that amount, 45 percent is used for statewide programs targeted to international and domestic consumers, tour operators, travel agents, and travel journalists, while another 45 percent is distributed to communities through the grant program. The remaining 10 percent pays for administration of the Tourism Development division, Commerce said.

Grant awards for each of the seven regions in Idaho are based on how much lodging money is collected in each region. Region 3, stretching from Nampa to McCall and including Boise, collected $4.6 million, Westergard said. The $1,037,685 that Boise received, a 12 percent increase over the previous year, was actually less than the organization requested, she said.

The Boise bureau will use the money for items such as attending trade shows to attract meeting planners, advertising the city to business and leisure travelers, and digital advertising to all 20 nonstop flight destinations from the Boise Airport, Westergard said. The group has also been working with about 30 travel journalists around the country, annually visiting cities such as Seattle, Chicago, Denver, and New York to meet with journalists there. “That sometimes takes a few years to have results,” she said. Sporting events also have a big economic impact — up to $15 million in the case of the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament, she said.

The state division is particularly interested in tourism efforts that drive greater national awareness around Idaho, Borud said. “We’re at a pretty significant disadvantage from a budget perspective,” he said. “Oregon and Utah run very big programs.” Tourism in Oregon brings in $11.8 billion, while tourism in Utah brought in $8.4 billion in 2016, according to the states’ respective tourism departments. “When people are exposed to Idaho, they are much more inclined to want to visit,” he said.

Idaho, particularly Boise, has been on a long list of best-of tourism destinations recently, Borud said. “’Northwest’s best-kept secret,’ ‘the West’s best-kept secret’ – that theme just keeps emerging,” he said. “We’re pleasantly surprised by the continual very positive, very authentic stories and representation of the state.”

That includes recent stories in the national news after a herd of 118 goats wandered through a Boise neighborhood. “That was hilarious,” Borud said. “Maybe it’s something we should do something with.”