In the world of economic development, it's pretty well accepted about 80 percent of all growth comes from within - either through the growth of existing business and industries or the addition of related suppliers and offshoots.

In the world of tourism, the impact of local involvement might be even higher, at least according to Pat Kennedy, manager of the Pendleton Convention Center, who estimates about 90 percent of the business at his facility comes from local contacts of one kind or another. His counterpart, Bobette Hilburn, manager of the Hermiston Conference Center, agrees.

Kennedy certainly appreciates the work of tourism committees, tourist-related businesses and those who make a living promoting visits to Eastern Oregon. But, he also understands the dynamic impact local citizens can have on bringing visitors to this area.

Notes Kennedy, if everyone who belongs to a statewide or regional organization, committee or agency promoted this area as a site for a future convention, conference or seminar, the impact would be huge. Some of that already happens, which is why Kennedy is quick to indicate much of the business already coming this way is the result of local people helping to bring the business to this area.

Take the local FFA Chapters, which are hosting their state convention later this month in Pendleton. An estimated 3,000 members will be descending on Eastern Oregon for that event. The same thing happened a few years back in Hermiston.

Says the convention center manager, "If I contacted the state editors or publishers and invited them to come to Pendleton for a meeting, I might not even get in the door. On the other hand, if you were to invite them, the outcome would be a whole lot different."

According to Kennedy, it doesn't just begin and end with conferences, conventions or meetings. Even those who don't belong to organizations can make a difference. Maybe it's locating a family reunion here, inviting a gathering of old high school classmates or just a group of friends who get together periodically to come enjoy what this region has to offer. If half of the people who live in Umatilla and Morrow counties invited someone to come visit the area, that would be more than 40,000 new visitors.

Hilburn, the Hermiston Center Manager, says, "It isn't just the major conventions we are talking about. It's also things like wedding receptions and similar kinds of activities that draw people to town where they are likely to shop, eat and stay overnight."

Hilburn stresses the importance of local residents "serving as ambassadors for the community and sharing positive reasons why people ought to visit." It's also about going the extra mile. "Just look at St. Patrick's Day in Heppner," she adds. "They show people a good time and they keep coming back, year after year."

A couple of weeks ago, we overhead some coaches at a meeting in Baker City arguing about which was the best basketball tournament, the 1A in Baker City or the 2A in Pendleton. In both cases, the argument was over which community goes the furthest in welcoming the fans and the teams. It wasn't an argument about what wasn't happening - it was a debate over relative merits of excellence.

Leslie Carnes, executive director of the Pendleton Chamber of Commerce, says, according to Travel Oregon, tourism is a $7.9-billion industry statewide. In Umatilla County, tourism had a $132.7-million impact in 2006 while it contributed $11.1 million in Morrow County. Carnes also proudly noted Umatilla County experienced a 7.9 percent increase in tourism between 2005 and 2006 - the second highest in Oregon.

She also said people seeking to locate events here need not worry about handling all of the details. "There are lots of resources available to help with planning and logistics," Carnes said, "including the local chambers of commerce." She went on to say, "People who do this kind of thing every day are only too happy to jump in a help in any way they can."

Welcoming visitors and promoting even more travel in this direction can make a dramatic impact on our economy. And it's a place where every single resident can make a contribution.

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