Economics of Preservation: Tourism and Employment | HPC Training | Wisconsin Historical Society

Guide or Instruction

The Economics of Preservation: Tourism and Jobs

Chapter 3: Community Benefits of Preservation, Page 2 of 4

Economics of Preservation: Tourism and Employment | HPC Training | Wisconsin Historical Society

In addition to offering tax savings, increasing property values, and enhancing the livability of a community, historic preservation efforts contribute to two other community economic benefits: tourism and job creation.

Economic Benefits of Heritage Tourism

A phrase that all commission members should have in their vocabulary is "heritage tourism." Across the nation, historic and cultural sites draw more tourists than recreational assets, making heritage tourism one of the fastest growing industries today. Heritage tourism strengthens the local economy by bringing outside dollars into local businesses.

Recent studies reveal that a typical heritage tourist stays longer, spends more money, and makes return trips or extends his or her stay much more than the average tourist. Communities that identify, preserve, enhance, and market their unique history and architecture will attract such visitors.

Heritage Tourism in Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, historic properties draw a substantial number of visitors to the state and constitute a large percentage of its tourism revenue. One of the most popular activities of Wisconsin tourists is sight-seeing, and travelers often select areas to visit based on the availability of historic and scenic sites. According to the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, in 2017 tourism had a $20.6 billion impact on the state economy, with tourism generating $1.5 billion in state and local revenues and sustaining 195,255 jobs in the state.

Wisconsin was part of a pilot Heritage Tourism Program that began in 1990 in partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation. As one of four states selected to be part of this economic development initiative, Wisconsin became a model for similar efforts across the country. The Heritage Tourism Program is administered through the Department of Tourism and provides professional advice to local projects on tourism development, preservation and marketing, long-term development plans, and enhanced services to increase tourism. Projects developed through this program include:

  • Timber Trails in Chippewa Valley
  • Fox-Wisconsin Rivers Heritage Corridor
  • Wisconsin's Ethnic Settlement Trail
  • Lake Superior Heritage Highways

Another great example of a successful "homegrown" heritage tourism project in Wisconsin is "Wisconsin's Northwest Heritage Passage." In this project, the counties of Barron, Bayfield, Burnett, Polk, Sawyer, and Washburn worked together to produce thousands of maps to highlight the area's historic downtowns, craft shops, farmer's markets, and farms offering direct sales of produce. This map was funded by organizations in each of the counties involved, along with grant funds provided through the Wisconsin Department of Tourism Joint Effort Marketing Program. Comments from small business owners about the "Passage" map indicate the positive impact of this effort:

  • "Definite impact. We've had our best summer in four years."
  • "It has dramatically increased awareness of our immediate community and other handmade, homegrown businesses."
  • "Yes, brought people here from out of the immediate area."
  • "We had customers come in stating they found us on the map. Great way to promote on a large scale with a small budget."
  • "I believe your map is responsible for my success this summer!"

In addition to the above accolades, the "Passage" program received a Wisconsin Rural Partners, Inc. award as one of the Top Ten Development Initiatives of 2001.

Creating Local Preservation Jobs

Rehabilitation and revitalization projects create thousands of construction jobs annually, and historic preservation creates more jobs than new construction. On average, $1 million invested in rehabilitation instead of new construction produces:

  • 20 percent more jobs
  • $120,000 more in the local economy
  • $107,000 more in household income
  • $34,000 more in retail sales

(The Economics of Historic Preservation, p. 14)

Historic preservation creates more jobs largely because rehabilitation projects are more labor intensive than new construction. In new construction, about half of all expenditures are for labor and half are for materials. In a typical historic rehabilitation project, between 60 and 70 percent of the total cost goes toward labor, which has a beneficial ripple effect throughout the local economy. Labor for preservation projects — carpenters, electricians, plumbers, sheet metal workers, painters — is nearly always hired locally. And local wages are spent locally.

In addition to construction, historic preservation also generates jobs for architects, accountants, attorneys, engineers, preservationists, real estate brokers, and others. The materials used in preservation projects are much more likely to be purchased locally, whereas materials for new construction are often purchased elsewhere. Across the nation, building rehabilitation outperforms new construction in the number of jobs created, the increase in local household incomes, and the impact on other industries.

[Sources: Rypkema, Donovan D. "The Economics of Historic Preservation: A Community Leader's Guide" (Washington, D.C.: National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1994); Wisconsin Department of Tourism. The Power of Wisconsin Tourism (PDF, 76 KB)]