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Spiral of failure

April 9, 2008
PLACES director Gary Esolen calls it a 'spiral of failure.' And it needs to be broken in order for Warren County's tourism industry to prosper. Esolen identifies this 'spiral of failure' in his three-part tourism study and strategic plan for Warren County. The $100,000 study was commissioned by the Warren County Commissioners and paid for using a grant from Pennsylvania's Department of Community and Economic Development. Esolen describes Warren County's 'spiral of failure' in its tourism economy in the study's 'State of the County.' According to Esolen, the high expectations for tourism in the county were unrealistic, being based on 'historically a very weak tourism economy.' He said after examination the situation it will be difficult to justify and fund economic strategies to grow the county's tourism economy. 'Solutions for Warren County must be designed to stimulate demand and at the same time create opportunities to fulfill that demand,' Esolen wrote. 'It's possible to describe a sort of spiral of failure in Warren County's tourism economy, which must be disrupted in order for economic growth through tourism to occur.' Esolen outlined the county's 'spiral of failure' in tourism: (*) Most business is local, and the local area is not affluent, so many businesses of the kind tourists depend on and patronize do not thrive. (*) Major tourism assets (the Allegheny National Forest, the Kinzua Reservoir, downtown Warren) mostly serve locals and are minimally organized for visitor service and convenience. (*) Businesses which could draw support from tourism remain marginal. (*) The area lacks a reputation for tourism. (*) No significant budget is available for tourism development or marketing. (*) There is a lack of pressure to serve visitors and a lack of perceived opportunity. (*) Residents have an expectation of manufacturing jobs and a lack of entrepreneurial spirit and experience. Few successful tourism business models are available to inspire imitation. (*) Few tourism service businesses develop. (*) There is no motivation or reward to clean up, fix up and beautify. (*) The visitor arrival experience and self-presentation of the communities is sub-par. (*) Attractive amenities (restaurants, stores, entertainment) are available in nearby Jamestown and Chautauqua County in New York. Similar amenities do not development in Warren County. (*) Projects are contemplated to take advantage of tourism (hotel/conference center, Musarium) to build the economy. (*) Those projects are judged infeasible or prove difficult to fund because tourism is low. (*) Tourism businesses such as the ski area near Youngsville fail and close. (*) Tourism investment is further discouraged. 'This sort of self-reinforcing cycle can go on forever,' Esolen observed, 'frustrating capable marketing and defeating carefully planned attempts at revitalization. Because it is a cycle it is difficult to break into it, since the flow of causality is constantly at work reinforcing the established direction.' Esolen believes the spiral can be disrupted. 'We are confident that through this strategic planning process Warren County tourism can overcome this deadly downward spiral and reverse its direction.' The Warren County Commissioners are already familiar with Esolen's theory that a 'spiral of failure' exists in the county. 'This isn't the first time we've heard of that type of effect pertaining to economic development in the county,' Bortz said on Wednesday. 'The first time I heard it was with the Bosworth Study, five or six years ago. Success begets success. Consequently, failure begets failure. 'By not developing tourism to the fullest potential, it's not attractive. Because it's not attractive, people fail to come. Because they are not coming, there is a lack of interest in further developing tourism.' Bortz transferred Esolen's theory of a 'spiral of failure' to another economic model Ð retail development Ð to illustrate how breaking the spiral could stimulate growth in the local tourism industry. 'We take a look at the Warren Commons,' Bortz said. 'As a result of the development there, Burger King moved out (of the city and into the Commons). What did we see as a result of that? Pizza Hut put in a new development. And we're seeing some other additional development there. And we're seeing additional interest in developing the Rt. 62 corridor.' Like Esolen, Bortz remains optimistic that the spiral can be interrupted to allow for tourism growth in the county. 'I can point to various aspects that appear to be doing okay,' Bortz said. 'Our new retail development in North Warren is bringing in people to our region, including New York. That's positive. The new Hampton Inn (being built at the Commons) is going to help create more beds. Certainly we'll see what happens in the city of Warren with the conference center. I don't think we've exhausted our potential by a long shot.' Esolen estimated that the county's limited tourism industry already creates nearly $50 million a year in economic impact. He based that on approximately $25 million in direct spending by visitors to Warren County. 'It is entirely possible that the economic impact of tourism in Warren County could double with little obvious growth, once the cycle is broken,' Esolen wrote. 'Tourism can be a powerful tool for economic development. 'There will be no silver bullet, no single project or course of action that can reverse this cycle of failure and produce significant economic development through tourism. Instead, it will be necessary for Warren County to alleviate limiting conditions and build tourism by parallel action in several different arenas, producing incremental change which becomes in time a self-reinforcing cycle of success.'


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