What a month it has been since my last column. While the full impacts of the 416 Fire will not be known for some time, it feels like we dodged a bullet and things are slowly returning back to normal. I have seen lots of conversation about the fire and wanted to give my perspective.
I have been reading and listening to the community discussion about the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and its role in all of this. I will not tell anyone what to think, but I do want to offer some facts about the railroad and its economic impact on Durango. This information must be considered as this conversation continues.
Two-hundred thousand people buy train tickets every year. Some are locals; the vast majority are people visiting our town. Let’s subtract 30,000 that are local riders, so 170,000 are from elsewhere. Furthermore, let’s assume that most visitors are families with kids. Not all are, of course, but for the sake of this exercise, let’s assume the 170,000 visitors are all families with two kids, so four total people. That means there are 42,500 families riding the train every year.
Now, let’s conservatively look at how much they spend while in Durango. I am using a two-night stay in a hotel. They would spend approximately $300 on a hotel for two nights. They would eat at least five meals while here for two days, and at $50 per meal, we can see how much they spend on food while visiting. Let’s also assume they spend around $200 on souvenirs and other goods from our local shops.
These assumptions work out to a total spend for those 42,500 families of $750. This is VERY conservative, as I know when I go out of town for a weekend with family, we spend closer to $1,000. So as not to overstate things, let’s use $750 per family. Keep in mind this does not include what they paid for train tickets, gas if they drove here or airline tickets if they flew here.
Doing the math, this produces a conservative total spend of nearly $32 million. Furthermore, the sales tax on this conservative total spend figure is just under $830,000. That sales tax pays for police, roads and other city services we all need.
When looking at economic impact, typically, you would add to the figure above the jobs created by the railroad, as their employees buy goods from local businesses. You would also add the impact of the railroad buying services and goods it needs from local businesses, which creates more jobs. In turn, those employees spend money on their own needs.
You would also add the charitable donations by the railroad, which is about $350,000 annually. The $32 million is really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the railroad’s impact to our local economy. I have seen studies that show a total economic impact from the railroad of nearly $200 million.
I ask that all of us keep this information in mind as we discuss the future of Durango’s original local business that created our town.
Tim Walsworth is the executive director of the Durango Business Improvement District. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.