What started out about a half-dozen years ago as a summer concert series creating some downtown fun has evolved into a significant local tourist attraction that this year is expected to draw fans from as far away as Canada and Florida.
Trumbull County Tourism Bureau Executive Director Stephanie L. Sferra said, for example, the final concert at this year's popular River Rock at the Amp series - Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes scheduled to perform Aug. 24 at the downtown Warren Community Ampitheatre - has already generated high ticket sales, including some to groupies outside Ohio and even outside the United States.
Bob Anderson of Rock Creek uses a chain saw to transform into a work of art a tree trunk that stands next to The End of the Commons General Store in Mesopotamia. The 300-year-old tree was damaged by a storm last summer. Tribune Chronicle photos / Virginia Shank
The international tourist draw to Trumbull County is exciting, but far from usual. That's because Ohio is known as a "driving destination" tourist state, typically drawing visitors from no farther than a three-hour drive, noted Sferra and Tamara K. Brown, public relations manager for Tourism Ohio in Columbus.
"We know from surveys that have been done that people are willing to drive three hours," Sferra said last week. For Trumbull County, that means frequent visits from places like Columbus, Buffalo, N.Y., Pennsylvania or parts of Michigan.
Trumbull County destinations include Mesopotamia's Amish country, Warren's National Packard Museum, Mosquito Lake Park, historic locations like the William McKinley Memorial and birthplace, Vienna's Wagontrails Animal Park and dozens of others.
Calling Trumbull County a perfect "hub and spoke" area, Sferra said she often caters to bus tour operators or other visitors who are passing through the area on their way to attractions in Cleveland or Pittsburgh, the National Football Hall of Fame in Canton, or other nearby cities. She noted one tour bus operator traveling from Minnesota to Washington, D.C., stops for a quick lunch and an afternoon visit to the National Packard Museum on average about twice a year.
Combined, the visitors to each of these locations bring a heavy impact on the local economy.
According to the most recent figures available, visitors spent $292.2 million in Trumbull County in 2011. Expanding that to include indirect and induced sales, the study commissioned by the Ohio Department of Development's Tourism Division indicates tourism generated $448 million in Trumbull County; sustained more than 5,700 jobs; and generated just under $100 million in wages.
In neighboring Mahoning County, tourism sustained more than 8,775 jobs and generated more than $157 million in total wages in 2011, according to the study released in 2012.
As local, state and national unemployment rates dip and gas prices remain competitive, visits to Trumbull County have been on the rise, evidenced by steady increases in local funds generated from visitors who pay taxes on their hotel stays, or "bed tax," beginning in 2010 through 2012.
Bed tax collected in April for stays during March, for example, were up $14,084, or nearly 26 percent, over those collected last year at this time.