By Stuart Hirsch
The Herald Bulletin

Tourism has become big business in Madison County and Hoosier Park Racing & Casino is the star attraction.

That’s the conclusion of a recent report from the Anderson/Madison County Visitors & Convention Bureau, which looked at the economic impact of the tourism and travel industry here in 2008 and 2010.

Among the report’s key findings were that:

Tourism and travel contributed nearly $506 million to the local economy in 2010.
A total of 3,821 jobs exist here because of the industry.
Nearly one-third of them are high-wage earners, professionals, technicians, managers, sales and construction jobs.
Tourism-generated jobs provided more than $68.6 million in wages to Madison County workers in 2010, compared to $62.9 million in 2008.
More than 3.9 million people made Madison County a tourism destination in 2010, compared to 2.2 million in 2008, the year when the casino opened.
Tourism generated $22.9 million in revenue for county and municipal governments in 2010, compared to $14.8 million in 2008.
The report, prepared by Certec Inc., a market research company based in Versailles, Ky., concluded that “tourism impacts all sectors of the local economy.”

“The takeaway is that there has been an accelerated rate of change in tourism and its impact on economic development,” and George Vinson, incoming president of the visitors bureau board of directors.

Ralph Day, executive director of the visitors bureau, said the 2008 and 2010 study years were chosen specifically to look at the impact a casino would have at Hoosier Park.

“It has really made Anderson a destination,” Day said.

And Hoosier Park has been a terrific corporate citizen, he added.

Since the casino opened in June 2008, the complex has averaged 3.5 million visitors a year, said Grant D. Scharton, Hoosier Park’s director of public relations He also noted that the Indianapolis Business Journal has named it the Indianapolis area’s most popular tourist attraction.

“Hoosier Park Racing and Casino is very pleased with the response in the central Indiana region and the tourists who come and visit the casino,” he said.

Tourism and community amenities such as Hoosier Park are an essential component of economic development efforts, said Rob Sparks, executive director of the Corporation for Economic Development.

“I think that tourism is a really important part of branding our community,” he said.