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Does Tourism Impact Door County Poverty Rate?

 
A recent article in the magazine "Door County Living," displayed data from the Census Bureau that showed, of the all the Lakeshore Counties north of Milwaukee through Door, Door County had the highest poverty rate. The article praised the economic safety nets available in Door County, because, among other things, the "...million dollar tourism industry in Door County would not continue to grow if poverty were more visible here."
 
But why are we, in our wonderland of natural world-class beauty, more likely to be poor than our neighbors in, say, Kewaunee County? And is it possible that our hallowed tourist industry might have something to do with that?
 
True, many Kewaunee County residents commute to relatively high-paying jobs in Green Bay. But lots of us in Southern Door do that, too. So what does Kewaunee County, without a fraction of our God-given natural blessings, do that we don't do?
 
First of all, they have no county sales tax. A minor thing maybe, but, unlike us, they are not taking extra money out of the pockets of their poor. Then their lack of a room tax. The one that the DC tourist professionals rammed down our throats. No big deal? Well, it is a real annoyance if you want to rent a room in your own county. More money out of your pocket so that the hotel doesn't have to pay for its own publicity. 
 
Then, Kewaunee embraced the energy industry. Their cash-producing wind turbines are visible from much of Southern Door. Then their nuclear power. Where else can a blue-collar technician make six figures? And how about Big Agriculture? Kewaunee looks for eco-friendly, common-sense ways to make it happen, rather than excuses to shut it down. 
 
Of course, none of the above is politically possible in Door County. We might upset the tourists. My gosh, we can't even have a Subway Sandwich shop in Sister Bay! In Southern Door, our cash-strapped farmers can't even erect a billboard on their property adjacent to HWY 57, to bring in a needed couple hundred a month. There's no such nonsense in Kewaunee County.
 
We in Door County may have become so indoctrinated by the tourist industry hype that we no longer know what is good for ourselves. Does tourism create jobs? Sure! Chambermaids, waiters, busboys, bartenders, handymen, lawn mowers, etc. Low-paying seasonal jobs. And in a county with double-digit unemployment, now that our "safety nets" are in place, we seem to need to import seasonal workers from Eastern Europe to fill these wonderful summer positions. It's too bad. Our bright young kids and young couples recognize that there's no future in our county, and look elsewhere for the good life. Public school enrollment is dwindling. There are no good jobs, and real estate prices have been inflated to "out-of-reach" by the "summer people." Those of us natives who are left, are old.
 
Peterson Builders is gone. They used to provide family-supporting jobs for a thousand men. Replaced by a few "Big Box" condos. We'll never get another good-job-producing shipyard in DC. The environmental impact statement would take 12 years to complete, and then, in the unlikely scenario that new construction would be approved, the endless lawsuits would begin. I'm sure that some Dane County judge would block any construction. And anyone in Sturgeon Bay that doesn't think that we overly cater to the summeristas, should look at all those permanent boatslips near the downtown bridges that now deny access to an attractive part of the bay that used to be accessible to every boater.
 
The poor in other tourist areas, like Florida and Nevada, enjoy living in an area that levies no state income tax, so they benefit from tourism in that regard. Not so much us in DC. We not only have state sales tax, we pile on with an optional county tax, and now a county room tax.
 
So does our tourist industry prevent poverty, or create it?
 
Tom Felhofer
Union
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