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Pennsylvania taxpayers get strapped to a roller coaster over spending on tourism

| Friday, Oct. 4, 2013, 12:59 a.m.

Station Square doesn't have a Sky Coaster, so Ohio dairy farmers expecting to ride it will return to their cows frustrated and disappointed.

That's a roundabout way of saying state lawmakers were focused on solving the wrong tourism-related problem Tuesday. As a result, they created an unnecessary new government entity, threw several million dollars at it, and told it to go inspire out-of-state folks to visit Pennsylvania.

The House established the Pennsylvania Tourism Commission and gave it $3 million in marketing money from the Department of Community and Economic Development. That agency already is tasked with attracting tourists to Pennsylvania and operates the state tourism website, VisitPa.com.

In justifying the further fortification of the state's already impenetrable bureaucracy, House Transportation Chairman Jerry Stern, R-Blair County, told the Pennsylvania Independent website that the commission could provide better continuity to the state's marketing efforts. He noted that Pennsylvania's official state slogan changes with virtually every new governor.

But having a commission devise a single static slogan, as Stern suggested, probably is unwise given the previous prosaic attempts to come up with something clever.

The current slogan, “State of Independence,” is an oblique acknowledgement that Pennsylvania is where the founding fathers signed the declaration excising us from England. It does little to lure coaster-loving dairy farmers from the Buckeye State.

Previous slogans also were lacking when it came to attracting tourists. Take “You've Got a Friend in Pennsylvania.”

What kind of accomplishment is that? If you can't make a single friend in a state whose population tops 12 million, you're obviously antisocial and never leave your living room, where the curtains probably are always drawn.

Stern implied that a key reason why the commission was created was to come up with a killer new slogan. Will that be effective in increasing tourism? Probably not nearly as much as making the VisitPa website more accurate.

Search the site for Pittsburgh-area amusement parks and the results returned will include:

• Horror Realm, an always well-received local convention appealing to guts-and gore groupies. Horror Realm offers plenty of fake blood and phony entrails, but try finding a merry-go-round there.

• SportsWorks, the Carnegie Science Center's interactive science and sports exhibition. SportsWorks has a unicycle that visitors can ride high above the exhibit gallery, but is entirely lacking in water rides.

• Station Square on the South Side. You won't find a single coaster there, but that shouldn't be surprising. It's a retail, restaurant and office complex.

A new commission isn't needed to boost state tourism. What's needed is a tourism website that isn't destined to disappoint dairy farmers eagerly anticipating their ride on the nonexistent Station Square Sky Coaster.

I'll preach that till the cows come home.

Eric Heyl is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7857 or eheyl@tribweb.com.

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