Raimondo's budget worries Blackstone Valley Tourism Council

Slater Mill in Pawtucket, said Bob Billington, attracted more than 20,000 tourists last year.

Gov. Gina Raimondo's budget calls for investing in tourism.

Instead of spreading the tourism effort over a half dozen regional councils, she's calling for a statewide campaign.

The details haven't been publicized, but the effort worries the director of the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council.

Thirty years ago, the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council moved from volunteers to professionals. The state tourism director wanted to give them state money.

"He decided regional tourism councils would help the state grow," said Bob Billington, president of the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council. "They would actually help the state grow."

Billington has been here ever since. He's developed Slater Mill, created the Polar Express, and worked to bring a new industry to the Blackstone Valley.

"We spend very little money in marketing," Billington said. "We spend much of our money in development, trying to plan, organize and encourage businesses to be ready - to be tourism ready."

He went on to say that if the state decides to take away the $300,000 that makes up a third of his council's budget, it would be a shift away from what he thinks tourism should be.

"To me, economic development policy ought to be about lifting all cities and towns," said Billington. "So, limiting Blackstone Valley's growth potential is disappointing to me, and I hope that's not in the plans of our state."

It's not known exactly what the distribution of dollars to regional tourist councils will be. Billington has heard Providence and Newport will remain whole, with others to lose state funds.

The Slater Mill in Pawtucket, said Billington, attracted more than 20,000 tourists last year. Now, it's about to be christened the main attraction of a national park. It's a far cry from the last ninety years of post-industrial decline.

"We've spent the last 30 [years] of that 90 trying to introduce a new industry, [a] tourism industry," Billington said. "I think it culminated in this last year with finally the federal government recognizing that our resources are nationally significant. That's a big opportunity for this Valley now."

For Billington, as well as the nine towns in the Blackstone Valley, tourism is the result of efforts much different than P.R. and marketing. Rather, it's the product of what he calls development.

"We did not have a museum of work and culture," he said. "We've created the embryonic conditions to help the Blackstone Valley grow."

Billington has heard the governor's approach to tourism is to centralize marketing, as well as take state money away from the regional tourism councils. His council has a $1 million budget, with a third of it coming from hotel tax. That money would be gone under his understanding of Raimondo's budget.

"To squelch that, to limit that, limits nine towns from coming out of a post industrial economy into a new service economy or service economy which is what we talk about in tourism," Billington said.

Raimondo told NBC 10 News that the point of a statewide campaign is to bring more tourists into the state. That, she said, will benefit Blackstone Valley, as well as every other tourist destination.

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