people on a small boat fishing near bank of Lake Cumberlan

Best year on record for local tourism: $144.52 million

Som­er­set-Pulas­ki County’s top indus­try made his­to­ry Mon­day with the announce­ment that vis­i­tors to the com­mu­ni­ty gen­er­at­ed $144.52 mil­lion in total tourism spend­ing in 2022 — the high­est amount ever record­ed.

It is a 5.5 per­cent increase over 2021, which held the pre­vi­ous record of $137 mil­lion. Local tourism pro­fes­sion­als attribute the suc­cess to con­tin­ued invest­ment in qual­i­ty-of-life ini­tia­tives, grow­ing events, a thriv­ing down­town, and of course, the star of the show: Lake Cum­ber­land.

“While we have always enjoyed healthy tourism spend­ing because of our beau­ti­ful Lake Cum­ber­land, we’re now giv­ing those vis­i­tors more to enjoy dur­ing their stay,” said Michelle Allen, exec­u­tive direc­tor of Lake Cum­ber­land Tourism. “They’re not only spend­ing their dol­lars on accom­mo­da­tions and out­door recre­ation, but on down­town busi­ness­es, con­certs at The Vir­ginia, fes­ti­vals like Food­stock, Moon­light, Mas­ter Musi­cians Fes­ti­val and Somer­nites Cruise, attrac­tions like Haney’s Appledale Farm and Bear Wal­low Farm, plus a robust culi­nary and nightlife scene that offers some of the best food and enter­tain­ment in Ken­tucky. We are expe­ri­enc­ing an incred­i­ble return on our invest­ment that is mak­ing life for res­i­dents and employ­ers that much bet­ter.”

How much bet­ter? The tourism indus­try in Pulas­ki Coun­ty cre­at­ed 1,140 total jobs in 2022 and saved res­i­dents $10.7 mil­lion in state and local tax­es, an aver­age of $418.43 per house­hold.

“This is just excep­tion­al news for our com­mu­ni­ty,” said Chris Girdler, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Som­er­set-Pulas­ki Eco­nom­ic Devel­op­ment Author­i­ty (SPEDA). “We’ve known all along that if we make this com­mu­ni­ty a place peo­ple want to live and vis­it, they will make it a place they want to work, too. All of our work to invest in qual­i­ty-of-life ini­tia­tives goes hand-in-hand with improv­ing the vis­i­tor expe­ri­ence and recruit­ing top-lev­el com­pa­nies to relo­cate here. As our No. 1 indus­try con­tin­ues to thrive, we con­tin­ue to see increased inter­est in busi­ness devel­op­ment. Our approach is work­ing and I am so grate­ful to every­one who has played a role in sup­port­ing these efforts from the ground up.”

Because of Lake Cum­ber­land and so many oth­er attrib­ut­es offered in Pulas­ki Coun­ty, local tourism efforts are fuel­ing eco­nom­ic growth and pop­u­la­tion expan­sion, Pulas­ki Coun­ty Judge Exec­u­tive Mar­shall Todd said.

“I appre­ci­ate the efforts of Michelle Allen, Leslie Ikerd, and Ali­son Pyles, along with so many oth­ers that keep this eco­nom­ic engine burn­ing and tourism dol­lars flow­ing into Pulas­ki Coun­ty,” Todd said. “I also com­mend our work­force, whether they be in retail or the food ser­vice indus­try or any oth­er oppor­tu­ni­ty a tourist might have to inter­act with locals, our cit­i­zens here in Pulas­ki Coun­ty are part of the charm and draw that keeps those tourists com­ing back year after year. From Lake Cum­ber­land to Pulas­ki Coun­ty Park to Somer­nites Cruise, the eco­nom­ic impact we see from local tourism dol­lars, includ­ing adven­ture tourism, is some­thing all involved can be proud of for years to come.”

The City of Somerset’s fes­ti­vals brought 22,500 peo­ple to down­town Som­er­set in 2022.
Tourism spend­ing in Pulas­ki Coun­ty has been on an upward tra­jec­to­ry dur­ing the last five years, with num­bers steadi­ly increas­ing since 2018 (except in 2020, which held at $115 mil­lion despite a glob­al pan­dem­ic). Allen and See Som­er­set Tourism Direc­tor Leslie Ikerd not only cred­it a reimag­ined approach to eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment but also a greater pri­or­i­ty placed on col­lab­o­ra­tion and part­ner­ship between local orga­ni­za­tions. Allen and Ikerd work togeth­er to mar­ket the com­mu­ni­ty, shar­ing state tourism co-op dol­lars that are allo­cat­ed based on the size of the des­ti­na­tion mar­ket­ing orga­ni­za­tion.

Ikerd said it is no coin­ci­dence that tourism spend­ing keeps ris­ing because of this col­lab­o­ra­tive approach — nor is it a coin­ci­dence that the com­mu­ni­ty expe­ri­enced record spend­ing in a year that saw record atten­dance at down­town Somerset’s free fes­ti­vals.

“We had more than 22,000 peo­ple vis­it down­town Som­er­set from across the Unit­ed States dur­ing our fes­ti­vals in 2022, and that does not even count atten­dance to Somer­nites Cruise, shows at The Vir­ginia, or the Mas­ter Musi­cians Fes­ti­val,” Ikerd said. “I am thrilled with this announce­ment and con­tin­ue to be so appre­cia­tive of our uni­fied approach to tourism and eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment that embraces May­or (Alan) Keck’s vision to revi­tal­ize down­town and cel­e­brate our community’s sto­ry.”

While light­ing up Som­er­set with food, music and art and mar­ket­ing it across the state and coun­try has been a top pri­or­i­ty since his first day in office, Som­er­set May­or Alan Keck said he is so grate­ful for how fruit­ful this change in per­spec­tive has been for the com­mu­ni­ty.

“I am so proud of the work that our tourism pro­fes­sion­als are doing dai­ly to share what is spe­cial about Som­er­set and Pulas­ki Coun­ty with peo­ple across the coun­try,” Keck said. “We will con­tin­ue to make qual­i­ty of life invest­ments for our res­i­dents because we want them to stay, and qual­i­ty of expe­ri­ence invest­ments for the mil­lions of vis­i­tors who trav­el here every year because we want them to come back, and bring more peo­ple with them. The trans­for­ma­tion we’ve seen here is noth­ing short of excep­tion­al, and I’m so excit­ed to see our com­mu­ni­ty con­tin­ue to grow in spe­cial ways.”

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