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How much is Pure Michigan worth?

Jun 30, 2015

The "Pure Michigan" campaign highlights beautiful and memorable places and experiences in Michigan.
Credit user PunkToad / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

State lawmakers are searching for money to fix the roads, and they’ve been eyeing the budget of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and its “Pure Michigan” campaign.

The MEDC’s funding was reduced by $15 million with the recently passed budget.

Alongside that cut has come debate about the effectiveness of the “Pure Michigan” tourism campaign.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy has released a preliminary report on the effectiveness of government spending on tourism, and it found that every dollar spent in tourism promotion generates only one penny extra spending in the accommodations industry.

The MEDC’s own report suggests that every dollar spent on “Pure Michigan” generates $6.87 in return.

So why the huge gap?

Michigan State University economics professor Charley Ballard tells us that these things are inherently difficult to measure.

“You’re dealing with people, and people are much harder to quantify,” he says. “We have to make assumptions that may or may not be fully correct.”

Ballard says that the discrepancy likely comes from the different ways that this study could be approached.

Different groups could examine the same issue, but by using different sets of parameters they could come to completely different conclusions.

“Unfortunately, if you’ve got an ideological bias, that might enter into your decisions about what you include in your study,” he says.

Ballard tells us this doesn’t mean that the public shouldn’t trust any studies simply because the results are different, but says the answer likely lies somewhere between the two extremes.

He also says that with more studies we could get closer to an accurate answer, but this is an issue that by its very nature is unlikely to see a definitive answer.

“The true answer is not easy to find,” Ballard says. “If we did 10 studies, I’ll bet they wouldn’t all give exactly the same number.”