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Tourism increases in state, St. Croix County

Wisconsin is trying to give Illinois and Michigan a run for their money.

The Wisconsin Department of Tourism is ramping up its efforts to attract tourists to the state, and according to Stephanie Klett, state tourism secretary, the new campaign is working.

In St. Croix County alone, tourism revenue increased from $69.4 million in 2010 to $74.4 million in 2011, Klett said. That's an increase of 7.18 percent.

"Wisconsin had five slogans in 15 years," Klett said. "We were overly branded and we didn't even know who we were."

Now, the state is promoting itself as a place of fun.

"Our new campaign commercials have no slogans and no words," Klett said. "We feature music by Wisconsin artists and showcase everything fun that Wisconsin has."

Klett, a former co-host of Discover Wisconsin, has been traveling Wisconsin non-stop for the past two decades, according to her biography on She's logged more than 1 million miles criss-crossing the state, and is credited as one of the most knowledgeable people when it comes to Wisconsin's 72 counties and the fun, historic, spiritual, wild, romantic and adventurous attractions and the events they offer.

"What I love about Wisconsin is we have some of the weirdest stuff," she told a group of 80 people at the New Richmond Area Chamber of Commerce's Women's Expo in New Richmond on May 2.

Klett went on to share an experience she had in Oxbo, a small unincorporated community in Sawyer County.

Klett said she visited the Oxbo Resort Bar and Grill where hundreds were gathered behind the building. As she arrived, she heard the crowd chanting "Hammer! Hammer! Hammer!"

"They were racing wood ticks," she exclaimed. "If your wood tick didn't win that heat, they pulled out the gavel."

It's unique stories like that that brings people into Wisconsin, she said.

Wisconsin previously spent $9.9 million on marketing for tourism, she said. That's compared to Illinois and Michigan whose budgets are at least double that.

Klett said her first order of business was to lobby the Finance Committee to increase her budget.

"That's hard to do, especially at a time when they're cutting school budgets by $900 million," she said.

Klett said it's important for people to understand how important tourism is for the state.

"For every $1 you put into funding tourism, you'll get $6 back on your investment," she said. "And that money is taxed, so it's going to pay for other things - like schools."

For example, of the $74.4 million brought in by St. Croix County tourism, $9.9 million went toward state revenue and $6.3 million went toward local revenue.

Klett said she credits the department's strategic plan with the tourism success.

"We put together a strategic plan and finished the first three years in 11 months," she said. "It's working."

Klett said she hopes the Department of Tourism begins to target northwest Wisconsin soon.

"I've done so many shows in this area," she said. "This area is amazing."

Klett said she believes northwestern Wisconsin has a very unique feel from the rest of the state.

"You've got Willow River State Park, Kinnickinnic State Park and even the Heritage Center," she said. "You have a little bit of everything. You've got the history and the beauty."

Klett said the plan is to hire a regional tourism specialist to make sure those in Madison are up to date on plans and issues in this portion of the state.

"The Stillwater Bridge is a great example of that," she said. "If people can easily get somewhere, they'll do it. We're really excited about the bridge."

According to Tourism Economics research, the tourism economy in Wisconsin picked up steam in 2011 with an impact on the state of $16 billion, an increase of 8 percent from $14.8 billion in 2010. More than 95 million people visited the state, up two years in a row. Tourism also supported 181,000 jobs and $4.4 billion in personal income. Fully one in 13 jobs in Wisconsin relies on tourism. Lodging sales increased 18 percent from the lows of 2009 at the depths of the recession. Visitors generated $1.3 billion in state and local revenue and $950 million in federal taxes in 2011, saving Wisconsin taxpayers nearly $565 per household.