By Steve White, Grand Island Bureau Chief - bio | email
Big business can be "boring" -- just ask visitors to Nebraska. Tourism brings in big bucks, yet when many are asked to sum up our state's offerings in a word, all too often that word is "boring".
At the state level, and locally, officials are doing what they can to promote the industry.
On Monday at Stuhr Museum, kids visit the Tinsmith, where they were learning to make cookie cutters.
But there's nothing cookie cutter about this living history museum, which is what attracted visitors Dave and Donna Frederick of Alabama, who found it fits into their philosophy.
"Brown–signing – where we stop and look at various sites that have brown signs that explain history or an interesting spot," Donna explained.
Nebraska would love more visitors like the Fredericks. And while tourism has a nearly $4 billion impact here, the state budgets only about $4.5 million.
That's a drop in the bucket compared to neighboring states like Colorado, Wyoming, and South Dakota. All told, area states combine to spend $115 million.
But the state has history and wide open spaces people like.
"It's nice to stop in a few towns that have history and characters behind them, so it's a real plus," Dave Frederick said, during his visit to Stuhr Museum.
In Grand Island alone tourism is estimated to have a $53 million impact.
Moving forward, the new state fairgrounds will play a bigger role and so will the Heartland Public Shooting Park which is hosting the National 4-H shooting sports tournament again this year.
Grand Island Visitors Bureau Director Brad Mellema said, "We have some really good facilities – shooting sports. Grand Island and Hall County is really gaining in prominence not only regionally, statewide, even nationally as well."
But established facilities like Stuhr Museum and Hastings Museum remain big draws.
Larry Roberts teaches fishing classes at Stuhr. He said, "People that don't spend any time out here are missing out on a tremendous experience."
And experience is what visitors want. While a state report finds Nebraska sells itself short, Dave and Donna are hooked on places like this.
"Reminds us of the stories we've heard in our family over the years," Dave said.