There are signs the tourism business may be on the upswing in Clark County. Tourist-related revenue there is up by more than $100 million since 2010. That growth is also fueling a welcome boost in hiring in Springfield, as new businesses and attractions pop up, enticing visitors to spend.
What’s behind the positive numbers?
It’s First Friday at the Hatch Artist Studios in Springfield.
First Friday is a monthly event where visitors can meet local artists and buy their work. There are paintings, collages, sculptures, woodwork, weaving.
Hatch opened two years ago.
The 15,000-square foot, three-story building has been divided up into dozens of art studios. On the top floor, a handful of Christmas-themed cartoons, including Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Mr. Magoo, are being projected on the walls while a country band plays.
Nick and Amber Hargett live in Enon, and say they come to Springfield for this event every month.
"It’s really unexpected to see so much good art all collectively in one place so close to home,” Amber says. “It was really kind of a gem for us to find it. I was like, why haven’t we done this before?”
This month the couple brought their daughter, Lucy, to the family friendly event as a birthday surprise. She’ll be seven.
Behind Hatch, you’ll find Mother Stewart’s Brewery, which also opened 2016. There’s a big patio and a large lawn in front of the brewery.
A couple of food trucks are parked around the outside of the building. Inside, around 100 people drink and listen to a jazz band.
The artists’ lofts and brewery are both in buildings that were originally owned and operated by the Springfield Metallic Casket Company.
Now, the old casket company complex is bringing new life to Springfield.
And the brewery isn’t just a place for beer. From January to March, Mother Stewart’s will host the Springfield Farmers Market.
Mike McDorman is president and CEO of Springfield’s Chamber of Commerce.
“Whenever you see a brewery you see people, and it’s been a great collector of people in our downtown," McDorman says.
More housing is on the way for the city, too.
“A developer from the region is going to come build 30 market-rate apartments right across the street from the Hatch here, and that’ll only build upon what is happening here,” McDorman says. “You’re going to see more people living downtown, so this’ll be more of living, breathing area, and then that offers more tourism--more opportunities to come in."
A new parking garage is in the works for downtown Springfield as well, which will offer hundreds of spaces, and five new retail storefronts on the ground floor.
Chris Schutte has handled marketing for the Springfield Chamber of Commerce for 10 years, basically since the Great Recession.
He says Springfield has seen substantial growth in weekend visitors because of a focus on online marketing.
“We especially have become very savvy web and digital marketers,” he says. “Our website traffic alone is up 54 percent over the last year, so we are now getting hundreds of pageviews into our website."
Springfield officials say it’s all part of a larger effort aimed at diversifying economic development and boosting tax revenue.
And hotel-tax revenue in Springfield has increased from about $550,000 in 2010 to roughly $950,000 last year.
Small businesses are popping up everywhere, but it’s not just small businesses that are opening in Springfield.
A new Starbucks is rumored to be coming soon, too.
At Un Mundo Cafe in the heart of downtown Springfield, Duke Level is serving up fair-trade coffee. It’s a mom-and-pop shop that Level owns with his wife.
Their children work there, too, and Level says his family is excited about the growth they're seeing downtown.
“Now, sometimes it means more competition for me, but I think also the more there is down here, the more it becomes a destination place,” he says.
Level says he's hoping small, locally owned businesses and big chains can feed off of each other.
“We are strategically located across the street from the Marriott [hotel], so we get a lot of out-of-town people who come in for various things, from the antique shows to the horse shows,” he says. “So, we have decided that our business would do well to highlight local and Ohio products.”
So, what’s next? Springfield and Clark County are both interested in attracting more youth sports, officials say.
Schutte is quick to note that it’s a growth market, and each youth athlete brings an average of 2.7 people with them when they travel to play.
Springfield officials are also thinking about a downtown events center.
This week, members of the Springfield Chamber of Commerce and potential investors plan to meet with officials from the Columbus Convention Center.
The capital city is attracting more big national and international events, which could mean smaller state and regional conferences could be looking for a new home.
And Springfield officials think they have the ideal location. But they say developers need to act quickly.
If Springfield doesn’t do it, some other city likely will.
This story is part of Scratch, WYSO's ongoing series covering innovation, business and the economy.