CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette defended the state spending $1 million a year to be a sponsor of the Greenbrier Classic PGA golf tournament at a time when the state Tourism Division's advertising budget is being cut by more than $500,000."It is a sponsorship of a major event, both for tourism and economic development for the state," Burdette said Tuesday of the annual golf tournament at The Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs.In the three years that the state Development Office has been a primary sponsor of the tournament, Burdette said between 600 and 700 national and international business leaders have attended the tournament as the state's guests."These business leaders have translated into real investments," he said.
With the sponsorship, the state gets a hospitality tent at the 18th hole, tour badges, concert tickets, parking passes and rooms at The Greenbrier that it can provide to business prospects.Burdette said Development Office staffers get more access to business leaders in three or four days at the tournament than they could otherwise get in two to three years of normal contacts."I can tell you, going backward, many of the people at the Greenbrier Classic have made investments in the state," he told the Senate Finance Committee.At past tournaments, Burdette said the state has entertained business leaders from Odebrecht, the Brazilian corporation looking at locating a cracker plant-polyethylene plants complex in Wood County; Carbonyx, the company building a multi-million dollar carbon alloy plant in Jackson County, and at least five Japanese firms that have opened or expanded facilities in the state.Sen. Erik Wells, D-Kanawha, requested lists of business people that the state has entertained at past Greenbrier Classics, as well as a list of all state investments made by those businesses."That $1 million a year is certainly a high price," Wells said. "I'd like to see what that return is."Wells said the proposed $552,000 cut in Tourism's advertising budget, from $3 million to about $2.5 million this coming year, is shortsighted, particularly with the need to increase promotional efforts in light of negative national publicity surrounding the recent water contamination crisis."If you look at the nine counties affected by the water situation, it probably is prudent to have more advertising," he said.Burdette, however, said the only other way for Tourism to absorb a mandated 7.5 percent budget cut would have been to lay off employees.Tourism Commissioner Betty Carver said the division concentrates state tourism advertising on markets in neighboring states, particularly the Washington, D.C., northern Virginia and Baltimore areas.Phil Kabler at email@example.com or 304-348-1220.