The Columbus Dispatch: Brand USA keeps Ohio at the heart of it all
By John Barker, president & CEO of the Ohio Restaurant Association
Ohio’s restaurant, food service and hospitality industries are booming. With more than 22,000 establishments, $24.2 billion in annual sales and 585,000 employees, we are in the Golden Age of restaurants.
A little-known but effective public-private partnership named Brand USA is a big reason millions of visitors each year come to Ohio.
Brand USA was created by the Travel Promotion Act, which passed Congress in 2009 with bipartisan support. Since its inception, Brand USA has helped fuel Ohio’s $44 billion tourism industry with more than 46 million visitors from which restaurants and small business owners greatly benefit.
The program targets potential Ohio visitors in the United Kingdom, Canada, China and Australia, among other hubs, and pinpoints these audiences through advertising and a variety of partnerships and events. Brand USA’s mission is to increase international visitations and enhance the U.S. image worldwide as a travel destination. This unique partnership is funded by a small fee paid by foreign travelers, which is then matched with private-sector funds from the travel and tourism industry. This comes at no additional cost to the taxpayer.
Partnering with other organizations — such as Tourism Ohio, the Akron/Summit Convention and Visitors Bureau, Experience Columbus, Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Cleveland Convention and Visitors Bureau, among many others — this initiative generates $19 billion spent and $3.1 billion in tax revenue for the state of Ohio.
There are many beloved attractions across the Buckeye State, including the lakeside rollercoasters of Cedar Point, scenic views in Hocking Hills and foodie trails to satisfy every craving, but without Brand USA, they would not be enjoyed by the thousands of international tourists each year.
Brand USA helps to highlight Ohio’s restaurant scene, which has something for everyone. With more than 300 wineries, 300 craft breweries and dining options ranging from casual favorites to fine dining, Ohio is a foodie’s delight. Across the state you can try regional specialties like Cincinnati-styled chili or goetta, a breakfast sausage with flavors that attest to the region’s German heritage. You can stop by Jer-Zee Drive-In in Marion, celebrating its 70-year anniversary, and try their famous homemade coney sauce.
Ohio also has renowned chefs across the state, such as in Columbus, which is home to restaurateur Cameron Mitchell and the James Beard Award-winning cookbook author Jeni Britton Bauer, the mind behind Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams.
Restaurants are the cornerstone of our communities. This year the National Restaurant Association and the Ohio Restaurant Association recognized Roosters Restaurants with the Neighbor Award for their extraordinary efforts in their communities. Roosters gives back to their community by supporting important local causes such as the Buckeye Cruise for Cancer, the Urban and Shelley Meyer Fund for Cancer Research at the Ohio State and the James Cancer Hospital, contributing to Nationwide Children’s Hospital and leading the Roosters Charitable Golfing Outing. These types of community investments are possible only because of the customers who walk through our doors.
Brand USA’s ‘Travel USA’ Inspiration Guide helps Ohio attract visitors from the most valuable international markets through a smart mix of online and print exposure. The program emphasizes cuisine ranging from regional comfort food to award-winning restaurants.
Our restaurants benefit greatly from Brand USA throughout the year. More than 25% of industry sales dollars are directly related to travel and tourism, which helps promote jobs in our communities across the state. This is even more apparent during summer months, when restaurant employment is usually more than 15% higher. In Ohio, 22,300 additional summer jobs are projected to be created in 2019. This is a 5.1% increase from 2018. Without the help of Brand USA attracting visitors to our great state, our communities are at risk of losing that economic benefit.
Currently, Brand USA funding is in jeopardy and will expire in 2020 without congressional action. Our federal lawmakers must act. Otherwise Ohio restaurants, the jobs they support and the communities they serve will be at risk.
Our restaurants in Ohio count on guests walking through their doors and ordering off the menu. With international guests being encouraged by Brand USA to visit Ohio as a destination, our industry can continue to thrive by contributing to a growing economy and providing jobs for those who call the Heartland their home.
John Barker is president & CEO of the Ohio Restaurant Association.