Members of the Senate Tourism and Hospitality Committee met Thursday at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville to allow Metro East industry leaders and owners the opportunity to address lawmakers and give feedback on the state’s economic recovery plan.
“The COVID-19 pandemic put a pause on the state economy, keeping residents close to home and taking a particularly staggering toll on Illinois’ tourism industry,” said state Sen. Rachelle Crowe, D-Glen Carbon, the vice chairman of the committee (shown at right, below). “By giving local business owners the opportunity to address lawmakers directly, we can work to truly recover from the pandemic’s hardships to craft plans and policies at the state level to help our communities bounce back.”
Metro East tourism industry leaders and business owners testified before the committee, urging action and sharing the financial impacts the pandemic have had on business operations.
Kristin DiCenso, representing the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, provided opening remarks before hearing from industry leaders.
Witnesses included Steve Gorazd, owner of the Bella Vista Winery in Maryville; Cory Jobe (left), president and CEO of Great Rivers and Routes Tourism; Pat McGinnis from AltonWorks; Mitch Bair representing the Gateway Convention Center in Collinsville; Brenda Whitaker, owner of four small businesses in Granite City; Ronda Sauget, Executive Director of the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois; and Hamilton Callison with Breakthru Beverage in Belleville.
Some speakers commented on the nationwide labor shortage, how it is difficult to find qualified employees to fill positions and work shifts. Lawmakers said they will look at solutions to create workforce training programs and ways to connect unemployed residents with career opportunities.
The committee met at the Fuller Dome on SIUE’s campus, and members were also given the option to participate via Zoom.
The Illinois Office of Tourism Deputy Director Karla Flannery toured southwest Illinois Wednesday and Thursday ahead of the Illinois State Senate Committee Hearing on tourism.
“It’s important that state leaders see the value of the Great Rivers & Routes Tourism region on the state’s economy and witnessed first-hand the impact tourism has on southwest Illinois,” said Jobe, president of the local tourism bureau. “We are very pleased that Sen. Crowe hosted the senate hearing in Edwardsville and we had the opportunity to showcase our amazing region to Deputy Director Flannery and the committee members.”
AltonWorks, a regional development group, was among those testifying at the senate hearing. The organization is working toward creating transformational local and regional redevelopment opportunities. It is a private sector, social-impact redevelopment company working on economic development opportunities in the City of Alton. AltonWork’s primary goal is to revitalize the region through strategic transformational placemaking.
Alton Works launched in early 2018 as a philanthropic effort of John and Jayne Simmons. The couple established a program of property assembly within Alton and are currently creating a variety of programs designed to lift the community and create economic opportunities.
“AltonWorks is committed to collaboration that betters the lives of everyone, not only in Alton but in the entire region,” said Pat McGinnis, senior advisor to AltonWorks. “I told the committee that when COVID hit, like everyone else, we initially stepped back and were faced with a good deal of uncertainty, but we remained steadfast in our commitment to positive social change and began to look at regional and local revitalization as a sum of actions that all provide a link to creating liveability.”
Highlighting the region’s liveability and active lifestyle assets, economic needs and recovery from COVID were all important aspects of both the senate hearing and Flannery’s visit.
Jobe noted that Flannery visited attractions and businesses in Alton, Grafton, Collinsville and Edwardsville during her two-day stay. This was her first visit to the region as head of the state’s tourism office.
“Deputy Director Flannery was able to enjoy Grafton and ride the SkyTour to Aerie’s Resort, tour Pere Marquette State Park, meet with Grafton Mayor Mike Morrow at Grafton Harbor, enjoy the views at Tara Point in Grafton, spend time at The Loading Dock, tour the village of Elsah, visit Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, Gateway Center, Collinsville, the Lewis & Clark Confluence Tower and the National Great Rivers Museum,” Jobe noted. “We were also able to highlight the wonderful culinary delights our region has with meals in Edwardsville, Collinsville and Alton.”