ITASCA COUNTY, MN — Itasca County is usually a popular summer destination, but this year is different as the area is struggling.
“In Itasca County, the unemployment rate is significantly higher at 11.6 percent,” said Carson Gorecki, DEED’s Regional Labor Market Analyst.
Officials blame the COVID-19 pandemic for the current struggles.
“These unemployment rates are the highest we’ve seen since the Great Recession, in terms of occupations and industries most impacted are leisure and hospitality,” Gorecki said.
Lodging taxes were down 35 percent in May.
For towns like Grand Rapids this is problematic.
But “Visit Grand Rapids” is tapping into the town’s claim to fame hoping to drive more tourism down the yellow brick road leading them into the region.
“We created a fun and lighthearted campaign called Dorothy Blazes New Trails,” said Megan Christianson, Executive Director for Visit Grand Rapids.
The campaign is named in honor of Judy Garland, who played Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.
Garland is also from Grand Rapids.
The social media campaign started in June and follows the characters from the famous movie as they explore what the area has to offer.
Starting July 1 the campaign will offer a contest each day.
Prizes include gift cards to local area businesses.
A bigger prize is available at the end of July, which will be a trip to Grand Rapids worth $800.
Officials said it’s too early to tell how the campaign has affected tourism in the area since the start of June but, so far, the reaction has been positive.
“I definitely have seen an uptick in our social engagement and our website traffic. People really are owning this campaign,” Christianson said.
If you would like to participate in the campaign, you can check it out here.