This is a big weekend for young athletes -- and the Tri-City economy.
More than 5,000 players, coaches and spectators will be in town for a girls softball tournament, and some 1,400 competitors will compete in the Pasco Invite track and field meet at Edgar Brown Stadium.
The softball tournament alone will generate more than $1.2 million in revenue to such Tri-City businesses as hotels, restaurants, groceries, wineries and retail stores, according to the Tri-Cities Visitor & Convention Bureau.
"They're an excellent example of how tourism dollars help the Tri-City economy," said Kim Shugart, vice president of operations for the bureau.
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The National Softball Association of Washington's Ice Breaker girls fast-pitch tournament has attracted more than 140 teams from throughout the Northwest, which will compete today through Sunday at ballfields in all three cities.
Tourism creates jobs in the Tri-Cities and beyond. According to data collected by Dean Runyan Associates of Portland for Washington's tourism industry, more than 5,000 people are employed in tourism jobs in Benton and Franklin counties.
When Benton and Franklin county figures are broken out, the data showed visitors pumped $392.6 million into the Tri-City economy in 2011, up from$375 million in 2010 and $351 million in 2009.
"That's a significant amount in this economy," Shugart said.
A breakdown of the preliminary figures for Benton and Franklin counties for 2011 shows:
-- $120.9 million was spent at restaurants.
-- $63.5 million was spent at retail stores.
-- $57.9 million was spent on accommodations.
-- $56.8 million was spent on local transportation and gasoline.
-- $49.7 million was spent on arts, entertainment and recreation.
-- $43.9 million was spent at food stores.
"We're somewhat cautious about what 2012 will do in tourism travel," Shugart added.
The bureau separates tourism in the Tri-Cities into three divisions: conventions and sporting teams, individual leisure travelers and business travelers.
"Much of our business travel has been tied in to the cleanup projects at Hanford, and those are slowing, so we'll likely see a downturn in business travelers," she said.
But the bureau expects to be able to attract more conventions, tournaments and leisure travelers to fill in any revenue gaps.
"Often, people are introduced to the Tri-Cities when they've traveled here for a sporting event or convention. When they see what a great area we have with golf, shopping, wine tasting, hiking, all our parks with riverside access, it gives them many compelling reasons to come back and visit on their own," Shugart said.
-- Loretto J. Hulse: 582-1513; firstname.lastname@example.org