On the same day that Washington eliminated its tourism promotion funding and shut down its state tourism office, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, in her new role as chair of the Western Governors Association, announced that her initiative for the year will be a “Get Out West!” campaign, promoting outdoor recreation, conservation, tourism and volunteerism across the 19 western states.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for us to do it collectively with governors in the West,” she declared.
Her initiative will focus on highlighting the importance of the recreational and tourism sectors of the Western economy; boosting “recreation, conservation, healthy communities and tourism;” and improving public policies that foster tourism, recreation and conservation in the West.
“The state can no longer afford to do some things it has done historically,” Gregoire said. “So we’re turning to the private sector to see if we can’t fund a coalition. … This is about partnering with private-sector organizations that have already come forward to me and said how enthused they are. REI has already stepped up and said, ‘Let us know what you want us to do.’”
Said Gregoire, “I just think we’re in a time right now where government can’t do it all.”
In May, the Washington Legislature eliminated the remaining funding for state tourism promotion, which would have been about $2 million for the fiscal year that starts Friday. State support had been as high as $7 million in past years.
“If I had money, it would go into tourism in Washington state,” Gregoire said. “You know I can’t cut schools and keep government money in tourism. So we’ll be turning it over to the private sector. … It’s time for the private sector to partner with the state.”
Gregoire said she was prompted to propose the “Get Out West!” initiative by “what’s special about the West … that we could promote, that would give us good solid jobs that we would be proud of, and would be really family-centered.”
The idea, she said, is not just to promote tourism, but to draw attention to the West’s great outdoors and the importance of families and children getting out into the western landscape.
“We have seen the character of the west change, and it is continuing to change,” she said. “Our children have lost their connection to our great land and our great outdoors, and that’s what makes all of us who live in the West proud that we live in the West.”
Gregoire said there are lots of efforts the WGA can partner with, from national efforts like Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s “America’s Great Outdoors” initiative and First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Move It” push, to Utah’s initiative dubbed “No Child Left Indoors.”
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, the newly elected vice-chairman of the Western Governors, backed Gregoire’s choice. “I am very pleased to work with Gov. Gregoire and our Western colleagues to promote tourism and outdoor recreation in the West,” he said. “WGA can play a key role in boosting businesses and jobs by highlighting and helping to grow these vital sectors of the West’s economy.”
Gregoire took the gavel from Idaho Gov. Butch Otter at the WGA’s annual meeting in Coeur d’Alene today. She praised Otter for his “commitment to address some of the more difficult issues” in his year as chairman, including energy and water issues.
Otter presented Gregoire with a gavel made from a historic tree planted on the Idaho State Capitol grounds by President Benjamin Harrison in 1891; she presented Otter with a set of custom-made cowboy boots engraved with the WGA logo, and said, “I don’t even remotely pretend to suggest that I can fill your cowboy boots. Congratulations on a wonderful year of leadership.”
Also on Thursday, the governors association:
* Approved a memorandum of understanding with NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, on making crucial weather and climate science information more broadly available to the states and others in the west. Jane Lubchenco, NOAA administrator, said the agreement will make sure NOAA can provide the information decision-makers, businesses and others need to deal with extreme weather.
* Heard from Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer that her state currently has the largest wildfire in its history, and 1 percent of the state’s land mass has burned. “The destruction is vast, and the losses are … so, so great,” she said. She called for more intensive forest management to minimize such devastation in the future.
* Heard from Washington Rep. Doc Hastings, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, that he is working with Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson on a revamp of the endangered species act. “There has to be a way by which we incentivize people to sit down and talk,” he said. “We’ll probably work through the appropriations process to hopefully affect that outcome, because it needs to be done in a rational way and in a grown-up way.”
* Hosted Gary Doer, Canadian ambassador to the United States, who told the governors, “Canada is your biggest customer.” Doer said, “We buy more goods and services from the United States than the whole European Union put together.” He also noted that of Canada’s 35 million people, 25 million visit the United States.