Visitors to Winnebago County boosted economy by nearly $320 million in 2013

Staff Report

Visitors to Winnebago County in 2013 spent $319,580,000 at area hotels, restaurants and other retail businesses, according to the Illinois Office of Tourism.

In related results, tourism in Winnebago County supported 2,640 jobs in the hospitality sector; those jobs generated $71,290,000 in payroll. The tax revenue produced by the local visitor industry was $5,240,000, while at the state level it was $17,650,000.

These numbers are down slightly, minus 2.1 percent, from 2012, which was a banner year for Winnebago County at $326,000,000,” said Rockford Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (RACVB) Board Chairman Darrell Snorek. “In 2011 and 2012, Winnebago County’s tourism increases outpaced that of other metro regions in Illinois. In fact, in 2011, it grew at a higher rate than the State of Illinois.”

RACVB President/CEO John Groh added: “Part of the reason for strong performances in 2011 and 2012 was the Chrysler Belvidere Assembly Plant’s retooling and the Exelon Byron Generating Station’s refueling, both of which added significant corporate long-term business to area hotels.”

In related news, sites and attractions in the region recorded record-breaking visitation during 2013. In total, area sites and attractions welcomed 6,765,917 visitors, up about 1 percent over 2012. Individual events in the region grew, although total attendance for festivals and events dropped as a result of the elimination of On the Waterfront and cancellation of the 2013 Rockford AirFest as a result of federal sequestration (AirFest subsequently returned in 2014). Event attendance was 795,245 in 2013 versus 1,062,634 in 2012. When these two events are removed from the calculation, overall event attendance grew approximately 5 percent.

RACVB productivity remains very high

Within what we control, the RACVB’s productivity in securing more conventions, sports tournaments and leisure visitors remains very high,” Groh said. “We are seeing better hotel activity in 2014. And, with the new Downtown Sports Complex opening in 2016 and the hotel and conference center complex in the Amerock/Ziock building scheduled for an early 2017 opening, the visitor industry will continue to grow and be an even stronger economic engine for our community.”

2013 highlights

In addition to the 300 sports tournaments and other events and conferences influenced by RACVB, the following new events added new economic impact to the local economy:

• New “Stroll on State” holiday event brought more than 30,000 to downtown Rockford Nov. 30 to kick off the holiday season. Decorations from the event lit up downtown throughout the holiday season.

• The region hosted its first national lacrosse tournament and attracted more than 3,000 players, coaches and fans over a June weekend. The tournament has committed to return for three more years (2014-2016).

• Rock Valley College hosted a new robotics competition, drawing 400 students from 20 robotics teams in the Midwest. The event, Rock River Off-Season Competition (R2OC), grew in its second year (2014) and drew 600 participants.

Factors for strong 2014 performance

In addition to many returning tournaments and conferences, the following factors point to a strong economic impact by the local visitor industry, according to RACVB:

• Countywide, for 2014 through June, hotel occupancy is up 12.8 percent to 59.6 percent, compared with 52.8 percent at the same time last year. Corresponding hotel revenue is up 15 percent year over year.

• With the help of strong partners, during its most recent fiscal year (July 2013-June 2014), RACVB booked 312 events (meetings, tournaments, seminars) for future dates. Additionally, RACVB has already serviced more than 100 events this year through June.

• The Kenneth & Phyllis Laurent House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, held a grand opening June 6. The newest FLW museum expects 10,000 visitors annually, with more than half from out-of-town.

• A beautified Rockford will help visitors feel more welcomed, as RACVB launched “Forest City Beautiful” in June. Forest City Beautiful is a new public-private partnership between RACVB and the City of Rockford focused on downtown.

To view the RACVB 2013 Year in Review document, go to

Posted Aug. 12, 2014

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