I take issue with the Tom Eblen column with regard to the use of incentives to attract and encourage tourism development in Kentucky.
Eblen takes particular issue with the most recent application by Answers in Genesis for the Ark Encounter project which is being planned in Grant County as the example of why these tourism development tax incentives are not worthy to be used as part of the state's overall economic development strategy.
I will not comment further in this piece about the Ark Encounter application. It has been clearly communicated why that application failed to win approval for the sales tax rebates that are provided by the Tourism Development Act.
Since the passage of the Tourism Development Act in 1996, approximately $1 billion in new investment has been spent on Kentucky's tourism infrastructure.
These investments include: the Newport Aquarium, the Kentucky Speedway, Newport on the Levee, Louisville's 4th Street Live, the recently re-opened Kentucky Kingdom, the highly acclaimed 21C Hotel in Louisville as well as the 21C under construction currently in a historic building in downtown Lexington.
The list of tourism development projects also includes visitors' centers that have opened in many of Kentucky's famed and intensely popular bourbon distilleries, as well as a number of new hotels adjacent to convention centers in Owensboro, Paducah and Somerset.
And to be clear, the Tourism Development Act is a performance-based incentive.
The qualifying tourism project, once approved, only receives a portion of the sales taxes it generates once it's built and open for business. These are new taxes being generated by the retail sales produced by the project.
The more sales generated, the more the project receives in rebates, up to 25 percent of the initial project investment over a 10-year period.
After the 10th year in existence, the state rebates nothing and keeps the tax revenue.
It's a sound incentive, aimed at attracting larger tourism businesses that will create jobs, generate state and local tax revenue, enhance the quality of life for residents and attract the visitors who will come as a result of the tourism project.
Kentucky's Tourism Development Act was the first of its kind in the nation and has now been copied by a number of other states seeking similar success to what Kentucky has enjoyed.
With regard to the jobs associated with these new tourism businesses, Eblen's piece unfairly reinforces the unfortunate stereotype that all those working in the tourism industry are trapped in "jobs that don't even pay a living wage." That simply isn't true.
While frontline jobs are an essential part of the overall tourism industry, so are mid- and upper-level managers, food and beverage directors, chefs, hotel general managers, and sales and marketing professionals — not to mention the much-sought-after construction jobs created in the building of these attractions and hotels.
The tourism industry in Kentucky is a major contributor to the state's overall economic vitality, generating a $12.5 billion overall impact in 2013. This spending generated over $1.14 billion in revenues to the state and $168.7 million in tax revenues to local governments.
This is a vibrant, diverse industry that is crucial to Kentucky's overall economic well-being, and the Tourism Development Act is an appropriate and valuable tool as we work to grow the jobs and impact the quality of life in positive ways that this industry does.
To paint the tourism industry and the Tourism Development Act with such a broad brush based on the unsuccessful application of one project for incentives seems ridiculously unfair and inaccurate.