Agriculture and manufacturing, along with health care and education, are the traditional drivers of economic activity in this part of the country.
Tourism was once considered slightly more than an afterthought.
Not these days.
Last year in Whiteside, Lee, Ogle and Carroll counties, tourism accounted for more than $151 million in overall economic impact, which represents a 13.9 percent increase compared to 2011, according to the Blackhawk Waterways Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Each county got in on the act.
Ogle County took in $65.3 million in tourism dollars, a 3.7 percent increase.
Whiteside got $35.8 million, a 2.3 percent increase.
Lee snared $29.9 million, a 5 percent increase.
And Carroll received $20 million in economic impact, a 2.9 percent increase.
The figures, which are contained in a 2012 Economic Impact of Tourism Report distributed by the Illinois Office of Tourism, are good news, according to Diane Bausman, executive director of Blackhawk Waterways.
“These statistics reinforce what I’ve said all along – the Blackhawk Waterways region is a great travel destination for those looking for a fun and relaxing getaway,” Bausman said in a news release.
Bausman believes 2013 will continue the trend of increased tourist travel to our neck of the woods.
And, indeed, tourism-related activities have made a splash in recent days.
Just this past weekend, the Whiteside County Barn Tour attracted more than 700 people to tour 10 vintage barns in picturesque southwestern Whiteside County along with the historic Albany Indian Mounds.
Saturday’s SV Weekend carried a story about how Dixon Tourism is promoting culinary tourism through a workshop, in cooperation with local eateries and businesses.
Friday’s editions carried a story about a plan to build a 7-foot bronze sculpture of a young Ronald Reagan as a lifeguard in Dixon’s Lowell Park, as a means to draw additional visitors.
SVM readers learned Thursday about a convoy of 300 European tourists who stopped at Franklin Grove’s Lincoln Highway Headquarters during a coast-to-coast journey.
And a Dateline Dixon column Wednesday titled “City seeing full potential in Riverfront” discussed how fuller use is being made of the Heritage Crossing Riverfront Plaza.
Tourism generated more than $31 billion for the Illinois economy last year. Because the Blackhawk Waterways region accounted for only a fraction of that figure, there is room for growth.
We salute people across the Sauk Valley for working hard to increase this region’s appeal to tourists. Let that effort continue with vigor.