The Richard and Helen DeVos Japanese Garden, which opened in June 2015, boosted Meijer Gardens’ attendance by roughly 20 percent. Courtesy Meijer Gardens
Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park has become a destination for visitors across the U.S., and it’s showing up in the local economy.
A study released recently by Grand Valley State University researchers and economists Paul Isely and Christian Glupker shows Meijer Gardens sustains 804 Kent County jobs annually and has a $75.2 million economic impact on a range of industries.
According to the study, 86 percent of total visitor spending came from individuals outside Kent County. Isely and Glupker created a geographic information systems (GIS) map showing visitors’ ZIP codes. Although most tourists came from various parts of Michigan, 23 other states were represented, as well.
“A large density is from Detroit, from outside Kent County in other parts of West Michigan, and in Chicago, Los Angeles, Texas, Miami and Seattle,” Isely said.
To conduct the study, Isely and Glupker analyzed data from 820 responses to surveys handed out by Meijer Gardens volunteers on behalf of GVSU last September and October during the final summer concert of 2016, ArtPrize and in normal operations.
The survey, administered to randomly selected participants 18 and older on a voluntary basis, asked respondents to list the number of people in their party and how much they planned to spend (or already had spent) on meals, shopping, transportation, lodging or other.
The largest component of visitor spending was meals, accounting for about 44 percent of expenditures by visitors. The next largest category was lodging, accounting for about 28 percent of visitors’ spending. Shopping and transportation were the third and fourth largest portions, at 15 percent and 12 percent, respectively. Respondents said they spent 1 percent on other items.
Isely and Glupker looked at three components to measure the annual economic impact of Meijer Gardens: the impact of visitor spending outside of the venue, the operations of the venue (including what visitors spend inside the venue) and construction spending.
Glupker said visitors’ direct spending outside of the venue amounted to $22.7 million.
“The result is a lot of new dollars into Kent County,” he said. “This happens because the venue draws 445,000 visitors from outside Kent County, and each of these individuals spends more as a result of a visit to Meijer Gardens than a comparable local visitor.”
Nonresidents spent an average of $129 per group outside the venue during their visit to Meijer Gardens, the researchers found.
The researchers said in the nine-page study summary, “In addition to visitors that come to visit Meijer Gardens, the venue also has spending. This includes all the services and goods sold within the venue itself, as well as costs like the production of exhibits, building maintenance and salaries of workers.”
The total impact on the economy of direct, indirect and induced spending by Meijer Gardens itself was $29.4 million.
Meijer Gardens’ total construction spending impact was $5,752,227, between hiring local workers and buying local supplies, and the venue supports 39 construction-related jobs.
Isely said the 804 total jobs sustained by the Gardens can be divided into four categories.
“There are four buckets of jobs being created,” he said. “The jobs at Meijer Gardens — those who are employed there.
“The second bucket of jobs (is) created by people visiting Meijer Gardens, spending outside the gardens on food, retail and transportation.
“The third group is construction, because it’s ongoing there every year.
“The fourth group is the indirect or induced jobs, which can spread across a lot of industries. In fact, all major industries can be affected. Say you went to a restaurant and bought food from them. They had to buy it from someone else. They had to rely on the supply chain like GFS, local farms, etc. Then there are induced jobs, because the employees had to buy things, like entertainment, food, transportation and housing.”
David Hooker, CEO and president of Meijer Gardens, asked Isely and Glupker to conduct the study, expecting it would confirm the venue’s impact on the community.
“It’s an affirmation of what we believed is true,” he said. “We as the team members here have the pleasure of seeing the thousands of people who come through our front door every day. We see the impact of our concerts and so forth, so we had a strong suspicion we had a substantial impact economically.”
Hooker said one attraction that has brought more tourists to Meijer Gardens in the past two years is the Richard and Helen DeVos Japanese Garden, which opened in June 2015. It is an 8-acre space tucked in the middle of Meijer Gardens’ 158-acre campus, with two ponds, four waterfalls, a couple of islands, scenic bridges, a bonsai garden, a Zen garden and a winding, shaded path with benches.
“The Richard and Helen DeVos Japanese Garden, in its first two years of being here, has had roughly a 20 percent positive impact on our attendance,” Hooker said. “We were averaging 625,000 visitors annually before opening the gardens, and in the last two years, we’ve had 750,000 people visit us per year.”
He said the venue’s other offerings are integral to Meijer Gardens’ continued growth, too.
“We believe it’s the quality of our exhibitions, the quality of the concerts of the Fifth Third Bank Summer Concerts series and the Tuesday Evening Music Club, the draw of our permanent art collection and our beautiful gardens,” Hooker said. “They bring people in.”
Isely and Glupker said the GIS map of ZIP codes they created and the data on visitor spending from outside Kent County fits with a trend.
“It’s one of the big stories lately as we look at these types of studies. We’ve been looking at the effects of beer tourism, festivals, the zoo and museums,” Isely said. “We’re starting to see that people are going to multiple venues and staying multiple days. There’s starting to be a density of people coming here on vacation.”
“If we look at visit days for non-local visitors … they’re spending 50 percent more than the people who are local. That includes people not driving very far, like from Lansing.
“That’s part of the ecosystem for Kent County and how to keep it thriving, that creates and maintains jobs even when times are bad.”