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Home arrowNews arrow ACHP Chairman Nau Speaks on "The Economic Potential of Preserving America"
ACHP Chairman Nau Speaks on "The Economic Potential of Preserving America"

Delivered at the Economic Development Administration's National Conference Session on Entrepreneurship in Economic Development, May 8, 2003, Washington, DC

It's a pleasure to be here; I want to thank you very much. And Mark, and Erik, thank you for allowing me to share the podium with you.

John Nau speaks at a podium while session moderator Lora Lee Martin looks on.



ACHP Chairman John Nau speaks at the Economic Development Administration's National Conference Session on Entrepreneurship in Economic Development, while session moderator Lora Lee Martin looks on. (Staff photo)



I certainly do appreciate the opportunity to be here today, and I commend the Secretary of Commerce, Don Evans, and the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development, David Sampson, and everyone at Commerce who participated in the creation of this national conference with such a significant and timely overall theme, "Engines for Growth for the 21st Century."

It ought to be abundantly clear, both from the discussions at this conference and from his leadership actions, such engines of growth are of vital importance to our President, George W. Bush, and this administration, for one fundamental reason: Because it is of vital importance to every citizen of this country today.

This session on entrepreneurship and economic development provides me with a chance to speak about a different type of entrepreneurial opportunity. It's an opportunity that is rooted in our past but looks very much to our future.

I'm talking about a product. A product where you live, a product that you drive by every day, and in most cases a product that is not organized and is not delivered to the consumer. I'm speaking about historic preservation, the economic benefits of historic preservation, and in particular both the public policy side and related business and development opportunities in an industry that is called heritage tourism.

A question: Why did the Texas House of Representatives recently identify the heritage tourism program of the Texas Historical Commission as the most significant economic development program in rural Texas for the last decade?

Heritage tourism, as you may know, is that part of the tourism industry directed toward offering visitor experiences in an area's unique historical heritage and culture. It includes the traditional type visits that we all did as we grew up: Historic sites, museums, heritage and cultural sites, natural sites.

Today's tourist wants a broader experience. It's not just the sites though, ladies and gentlemen. It is the peoples who created the past, that have actually molded the present, and will create the future.

Now let me cite a few statistics compiled from recent studies of the economic impact of heritage preservation in three states; Florida, Colorado and Texas. I would not be here, as a businessman, if I didn't believe that there is a clear return on this investment.

Historic preservation activities in Florida impact the state with almost $4.2 billion annually. This includes $3.7 billion in heritage tourism, $350 million from historic building restoration and rehabilitation, $58 million from net historic museum operations, and $64 million from net Main Street historic downtown development programs.

In Colorado, there were an estimated 4.6 million overnight pleasure trips that represented 22% of total annual travel into Colorado. These trips included a visit to at least one historic site or landmark and resulted in:

  • $1.4 billion in direct heritage tourism expenditures,

  • an additional $1.7 billion in generated indirect impacts,

  • $1 billion in total household earnings by Colorado workers, and, most importantly,

  • 55,300 new jobs.

There are similar numbers for my home state of Texas. Cities in Texas have active historic preservation programs that indicate that historical designations can increase property values by as much as 20%, particularly in rural areas.

Private property owners invest more than $172 million in historic building rehabilitation annually. That's 4% of total building construction activity. Public entities add another $20 million for a total annual historic rehabilitation in Texas of over $192 million.

The product is the history. You can have no better product: U.S., state, local.

The consumer is every tourist. I would suggest to you that the target consumers are the boomers who are going to start touring, and doing it for a long time, beginning in the next three to five years. Our job is to figure out the delivery system. It is for this reason that I want to share with you the Administration's recently announced Preserve America initiative.

It has been said that, "History, although sometimes made up of the few acts of the great, is more often shaped by the many acts of the small."

In this respect, history echoes our nation's economy as well as its political structure. While established major businesses are of foremost importance to our economy, let us not forget the reason that we are here, the many entrepreneurs and small businesses that play such an incredibly important job in creating wealth and jobs. Both of these aspects of our economy are interdependent and in fact essential. And, we must act in ways to foster them. Preserve America does this.

You see, Preserve America is all about improving the economic future through historic preservation. But this is not preservation for the sake of preserving something. It is preservation for the sake of improving quality of life, of ensuring that we appreciate and-importantly-learn from our past, and of continuing to create opportunity—many kinds of opportunity—economic, educational, social, cultural…and particularly in rural America. The assets are there, and you don't need to go build an infrastructure. I think this is extremely important. Those assets—somebody built the courthouse, somebody fought the battle, somebody created them already.

The First Lady of the United States, Mrs. Laura Bush, graciously introduced the Preserve America effort at a conference of the National Association of Counties earlier this spring. In her remarks she said:

Preserve America is a new White House initiative that will provide you with greater support to protect and restore our nation's cultural and natural resources-from monuments and buildings to landscapes and main streets…. Today, President Bush signed an Executive Order on Preserve America to ensure that everyone, especially our children, will continue to explore and learn from historic treasures…. This order directs federal agencies to inventory and promote greater use of historical sites in partnership with state, tribal, and local governments. Preserve America will provide more opportunities for preservation and increase tourism and economic development.

Preserve America is about recognizing the tremendous assets of this country and harnessing them in appropriate ways. That is the basic purpose, especially through heritage tourism. Through the Preserve America Executive Order and other related tools the federal government will help create the fertile economic fields in which the seeds of opportunity—the seeds of entrepreneurship—to promote and capitalize on our past will flourish.

Now, we know that the federal government works best when it works in partnership with communities, counties, states, tribes-people like you. The Preserve America initiative promotes such activity, and the Executive Order directs the federal agencies to actively engage in partnerships. Our job is to identify and integrate the historic, natural, and cultural resources that are owned and managed at the federal, state and local level. It shouldn't be too tough a job.

The initiative includes a Presidential Awards program to foster innovative and beneficial preservation work, a Preserve America Communities program to recognize community partnership efforts, and Federal economic support that identifies existing programs within the Federal government that can be used to assist and leverage such activity.

Through the Executive Order, federal agencies are to "promote local economic development and vitality through the use of historic properties in a manner that contributes to the long-term preservation and productive use of those properties." Heritage tourism clearly represents an emerging economic growth industry, one that is both public and private. One that encourages investment from both sectors.

There are 26 states that have some form of heritage tourism program. There are 24 states that don't. There's tremendous opportunity here.

We know that travel and tourism overall have been experiencing dramatic dynamic growth. This growth is expected to continue, as I said earlier, as the boomers reach retirement age with greater resources, longer life span, and a desire to see this country.

We know that in recent years overseas travel has declined for U.S. citizens as well as foreign visitors coming here. With the events of September 11, and the recent war in Iraq, Americans have shown a greater need to connect with the places that tell the story of their collective heritage.

Americans: We are traveling more in the US and we want to learn about those places that link us to our past.

In Texas, we studied the issue and found that heritage tourism accounts for 11% of all travelers to our state, and that segment is worth $1.4 billion. But more importantly, heritage tourists will spend $29 more per day in your community than non-heritage travelers. Their trips tend to last a day or two longer. They create more than 32,000 jobs a year in Texas.

This is what legislators will listen to—for every $1 million spent by those travelers, 22 jobs are created, $480,000 in income is generated, $92,000 in state and local taxes result, and the Gross State Product goes up by $825,000.

Well, as I have already mentioned, other states find similar patterns. I don't care where you are. Those states that are engaged in creative heritage tourism programs—Arizona, Virginia, Missouri—they all confirm these trends. Heritage tourism is a product that, when developed, will create the type of jobs that you are here to identify.

Entrepreneurship, in one classic case, is to create state of mind. I would suggest to you that you have the product out there that will motivate people in your communities to create that business.

Somebody once said, "Build it and they will come." Well, our forefathers built it. Our job is to organize it. Preserve America program, the federal government is saying, this is worth the investment. And I think our children, and our travelers, will invest in it along with us.

Thank you very much.

For more information, contact Bruce Milhans at (202) 606-8513 or

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Posted May 22, 2003

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