The state of Wisconsin’s annual report on tourism spending shows some progress for Kewaunee County’s fledgling tourism industry but provides benchmarks for future growth.

The report released in connection with Tourism Week indicates that direct visitor spending in the county rose to $17.6 million in 2016, up from $17.4 million a year earlier, a 1.04 percent increase.

The news comes as Kewaunee County prepares for one of its biggest tourism opportunities in years, hosting Wisconsin Farm Technology Days. The state’s largest agricultural show is expected to draw 30,000 to 45,000 visitors July 11-13.

“This is our time to shine and give these visitors a reason to return, keep the registers ringing, and help us have an even greater economic impact for the state,” said Jennifer Schneider, Kewaunee County tourism coordinator and public information officer.

Although the numbers are promising, they also reflect how far the county has to go. A breakout of the statistics shows that Kewaunee County ranks 66th among the 72 Wisconsin counties for direct visitor spending.

Crescent Beach & Boardwalk - Bob Kuhn

Crescent Beach on the Lake Michigan waterfront in Algoma is one of Kewaunee County’s hidden gems. Photo by Bob Kuhn.

The local tourism industry recorded $33.0 million in sales in 2016 with 280 workers, according to the state Department of Tourism. By comparison, northern neighbor Door County ranked seventh with direct visitor spending of $347.8 million and employs 3,178 tourism workers – although Door also spends millions on tourism promotion throughout the Midwest with the help of a room tax imposed on lodging.

Also telling is that total labor income in Door County was $75.1 million, or about 21.6 percent of the visitor spending. By comparison, the $4.8 million earned by Kewaunee County tourism workers represents 27.3 percent of spending.

The statewide average is 42.8 percent, although that number is skewed by counties like Milwaukee and Brown that have professional major league sports teams. In the home of the Green Bay Packers, Brown County recorded $637.9 million in visitor spending, of which $429.3 million or 67.3 percent went to labor costs.

“Wisconsin is a great state for a unique vacation, but one of the things that sets Kewaunee County apart most, is being a place where small-town charm still exists,” Schneider said. “Visitors can truly enjoy themselves here and not worry about breaking the bank, dealing with long lines and bumping elbows, and we’ll continue to work hard at getting this message out.”

Kewaunee County has only begun to invest in tourism promotion. Schneider’s position was created only two years ago. The county relaunched its tourism website, www.visitkewauneecounty.com, earlier this year and is in the process of scheduling installation of new “Welcome to Kewaunee County” signs on state highways 29, 54, and 42.

Visit Kewaunee County is also ramping up its social media efforts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.