Newly appointed Wisconsin Secretary of Tourism Jim Holperin will take over a state agency that provided enough tax revenues to keep local and state government from raising their taxes almost $1,000 to maintain current service standards.
A report released Friday by the Department of Tourism shows Wisconsin tourism increased 2 percent from 2001. Travelers and vacationers within the state spent about $11.7 billion in the state in 2002.
Gov. Jim Doyle announced Holperin’s selection as tourism secretary April 30. Holperin, a former state legislator and director of the special school for environment education, Trees for Tomorrow, will replace former secretary Kevin Shibilski, who resigned the post effective May 2.
“I’m strongly committed to strengthening the travel and hospitality industry in this state,” Doyle said in a release announcing Holperin’s appointment. “I know Jim Holperin shares this commitment and shares my enthusiasm for doing everything possible to promote Wisconsin’s tourism businesses along with the state’s tremendous inventory of natural and cultural resources.”
Beginning in 1983, Holperin spent nine years as a state representative and had chaired the Assembly Committee on Tourism, Recreation and Forest Productivity. Born and raised in Eagle River, Holperin graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in 1973 and is currently working toward his masters in public administration at UW-Oshkosh.
Shibilski resigned his post on April 18 amid controversy. State Republicans said at the time that Doyle ordered Shibilski to resign to cover up sordid campaign practices in which Shibilski allegedly sent out mass mailings to discourage voters from selecting Rep. Julie Lassa, D-Stevens Point, to fill the Assembly seat Shibilski left vacant when he became tourism secretary.
Doyle has said on numerous occasions that Shibilski told him in a resignation letter that the post was taking too much time from his family and that he would leave to pursue other opportunities, and those were the only known reasons for the resignation.
Although tourism spending supported the equivalent of 324,000 full-time jobs and paid $6.6 billion in wages and salaries to Wisconsin workers, the industry suffered greatly this past winter due the utter lack of snow through the months of December and January.
The situation became so dire that Shibilski issued a novel “no-snow” emergency for the state. At the time, Shibilski estimated the state’s tourism economy to reap in about $3 billion during the winter-sports season and that wintertime profits would be down almost 20 percent because of the dry weather. During the drought, Shibilski tried to focus tourism advertising on attracting visitors to cultural centers such as Madison and Milwaukee.
“As the secretary of tourism, it’s dangerous to start naming favorite places,” Holperin said. “But Kathy and the children and I have sampled a lot of what Wisconsin has to offer.”
Holperin, who starts his first official day as secretary May 12, said being from Northern Wisconsin, his family found urban experiences in Madison and Milwaukee a welcome and relaxing change, just as a citizen from a bigger city would enjoy the peace and solitude of the Northwoods.
“The main mission of the Department of Tourism is to promote, market and attract people to this state,” Holperin. “I think that it will be an easy sell, as we have lots of natural and cultural resources for travelers to enjoy.”