LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - While State Treasurer John Kennedy discussed the state's struggling oil industry at the Golden Nugget on Thursday, over at L'Auberge, newly-elected Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser proposed a solution to stimulate the state's economy.
"I think this is a great time, with the oil field down, to focus on tourism being that economic engine we need. There's no better time to rely on tourism to strengthen our economy and bring more tax dollars to Louisiana," Nungesser said.
He addressed a room full of tourism leaders from across the state at the annual meeting of the Louisiana Travel Promotion Association.
As Lt. Governor, Nungesser also takes on the role of running the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism.
Nungesser said he wants to focus on promoting the many attractions Louisiana has to offer, especially those that don't see many visitors.
"I want to focus on (places) around the state, some of the the areas that feel they have been left out. They haven't got the help they need to promote their area," he said.
His plan prompted input from a Cameron Parish representative.
"We have a lighthouse that we'd love to see some interest in. We have some Indian mounds. The natural experience of Cameron parish, our coastline," said the representative. "We're at the opposite end of the state. We are the heel of the boot and we'd love to have some visitors down our way."
On top of promoting the state's lesser known attractions, Nungesser said one way to draw tourists to the state is by funding attractions like the National Hurricane Museum & Science Center.
"I've been all over the country speaking about the hurricanes, as I rode out Katrina in Plaquemines Parish. So instead of me or other people going around the country to speak, let's bring those people here, spend tax dollars here in Lake Charles. That will be a great facility here for Lake Charles and all of Louisiana," he said.
The Lt. Governor explained it will require a partnership between private investors, taxpayers and the state for it to start paying off soon.
"I think that's the best way to sell these concepts of the long-term investment and the long-term value to this community. When you look at the amount of visitors it will bring in it will pay for itself but we've got to get that partnership working together to fund the construction," explained Nungesser.
As of December 2015, 80 percent of the funds needed to break ground on the National Hurricane Museum & Science Center have been raised, according to information from Chairman Gray Stream.
On April 9, Calcasieu Parish voters will decide whether to approve a proposed 10-year ad valorem tax in the amount of 1.5 mills on assessable property within the parish for the purpose of "funding acquisition, construction, operation and maintenance" of the National Hurricane Museum and Science Center.
Nungessor said legislators in Baton Rouge need to be convinced that digging deeper into the pockets of the tourism industry is not a solution to the state's budget woes.
"With all the cuts that are coming, the return on investment of tourism - 38 (dollars) to 1 dollar - there's nothing else anywhere that has that return on investment. So we just got to keep that in the forefront and make sure Baton Rouge understands the importance of continuing to fund tourism throughout the state," he said.