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Tourism: Big business in Bulloch
SCVB reports $112 million impact in 2012
Beau Turpin and James Kicklighter
Filmmakers Beau Turpin and James Kicklighter speak at the Statesboro Convention and Visitors Bureau's annual meeting Friday. Kicklighter and Turpin are creating a film about the life of legendary Georgia Southern football coach Erk Russell. - photo by LYNN LILLY/Herald correspondent

After a year of record success attracting tourist dollars to the region, the Statesboro Convention and Visitors Bureau had plenty to celebrate and was looking forward to more.
    At their annual meeting on Friday, some 150 SCVB members, elected officials and citizens received a dollars-and-cents report on the positive economic impact of tourism here, followed by a preview of the city’s upcoming Hollywood debut in the Erk Russell biopic.  
    Barry Turner, outgoing SCVB President and Vice President for Community and College Relations at Ogeechee Technical College, kicked off the event with a recap of the economic impact of tourism on the community.  2012 saw $112 million in direct tourism spending in Bulloch County, or about $306,000 a day.
    Visitors added $3.21 million to the county tax coffers for local operations and improvements. In addition, the financial benefits of tourism have been on an upward trend, a solid boost even during the economic downturn. Since 2005, tourism spending in Bulloch County has increased 49%, and state and local taxes brought in by tourism are up 40%.
    “The financial impact the tourism industry has on the local economy is amazing,” commented Turner, “and the Annual Meeting gives us a chance to celebrate the successes of the past year while challenging ourselves to improve in the coming year.”  
    State Representative Jan Tankersley took the podium to announce that the bill she championed authorizing the City of Statesboro to increase the hotel/motel tax had been signed into law by Governor Nathan Deal. In addition to thanking tourism and community leaders for their help in the effort, she spoke of her confidence in the SCVB to help continue the positive impact.
    “Our Convention and Visitors Bureau has taken a strong leadership role in economic development,” she noted.  “And in Atlanta they’re considered solid partners in the State of Georgia’s tourism efforts.”
Brent Tharp, Director of the Georgia Southern University Museum, recognized Splash in the Boro with the Tourism Partner of the Year Award. The attraction generates about $8.6 million in community economic impact and has created 200 seasonal jobs.  Parks and Recreation Director  Mike Rollins and County Manager Tom Couch accepted the award. Couch touted the rec department’s success to a straightforward philosophy.  “They run Splash like a business.  They have an aggressive marketing plan, and they keep the concept fresh, so people come back year after year.”
    Andy Bhula, of the Statesboro Comfort Inn and Suites and La Quinta Inn, took the gavel as the new President of the SCVB board.  Said Bhula of the transition, “I want to thank the board members, staff and volunteers for all they done in the past year, and I look forward to more successes for Statesboro in the year ahead.”  Three new board members were also elected, Jack Forstrom, Holiday Inn Statesboro; Lynn Lilly, The Lilly Group; and Heath Robinson, 40 East Grill and Bigshow’s Burgers.
    Bhula’s positive expectations for Statesboro took “big screen” form in a presentation by the duo behind the feature film, “Erk”, on the life of Georgia Southern’s legendary football coach Erk Russell.  Beau Turpin, producer/writer and James Kicklighter, director/writer, are both Georgia Southern graduates and South Georgia natives. They shared their plans for the project, which is expected to begin shooting in Statesboro this Fall, and their personal connection to it.
    “It’s a story that needs to be told.  Erk Russell was force and his is a story for all ages, all generations, to inspire people.”   
Following the meeting, local officials in attendance added praise for the work of the SCVB staff and membership.  Will Britt, Mayor Pro Tem, noted, “As an elected official, I’m very excited to see so many people working together as a community for tourism in Statesboro.  They aren’t focused on competing with each other. They applaud and encourage each other to bring more people to Statesboro.” Frank Parker, City Manager and SCVB Board Member, added, “The City has definitely enjoyed our relationship with the SCVB.  With funds generated for the city -- and that will continue to be generated -- we are able to do projects we would not have been able to do.”

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