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.”