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Branson/Tri-Lakes Outlook: Jonas Arjes

Taney County Partnership Executive Director and Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and CVB Chief Economic Development Officer

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Jonas Arjes is on the front lines working to attract and retain businesses in the Branson/Tri-Lakes region, and he says hundreds of millions of dollars in projects are in the works.

2020 Projection: Branson will have its best year on record.

SBJ: What’s the status of economic investments in the Branson area?
Arjes: If you just go by the city of Branson’s commercial permitting values, we’re having a great year. As of the third quarter, the commercial permitting value is over $80 million. At this time historically, in ’18 they were around $28 million and ’17 they were around $38 million-$39 million. For the economic development arm of the Branson chamber … the projects that we’re tracking as of our December board meeting, we have over $820 million in projects at different levels. For us, that’s pretty high. We’ve been anywhere probably between $500 million and up for the last three or four years as far as projects.

The two big ones right now for Branson are the Aquarium at the Boardwalk, which is $55 million-plus, and WonderWorks, which is $25 million-plus. It’s driven by the tourism economy.

SBJ: Retail and restaurant plans also have been popping up. Is that a complement to attractions?
Arjes: When folks come to visit and they stay two or three nights, they’ve got to eat. You’re seeing a lot of attention. Paula Deen’s [restaurant] was a good get for the Branson Landing. Guy Fieri is another big deal. It’s that visitation. They believe they can capture a portion of that and be successful, so it’s driving those investment dollars. Live entertainment is still a driver. Shopping is very high on the list when visitors are here.

SBJ: How big an issue is workforce, given Branson’s relatively small population?
Arjes: The latest estimate for Branson is around 11,600. Workforce is a challenge for us. That’s no secret. That’s what took us to Puerto Rico and other programs. Probably one of our biggest threats to growth is access to talent. It’s quality and quantity when it comes to talent resources. Looking ahead, we need to be very cognizant of placemaking strategies, making sure that this is a great place to live, to be able to get folks to come here to fill the jobs that we have.

SBJ: What are the bright spots for 2020?
Arjes: I could see 2020 being the best year on record for Branson. You look at visitation numbers, you look at revenue generation as far as taxes, there is so much on the horizon that’s going on that there’s going to be so many reasons for people to come here.

Here’s my top five that makes me view that: 1. Tiger Woods’ Payne’s Valley. 2. Guy Fieri. You have two star power draws right there in two totally separate industry sectors. 3. The Aquarium at the Boardwalk is going to open in 2020. 4. WonderWorks is going to open in 2020, and they’re not even a block apart. 5. And then you have our tried and true market driver in Silver Dollar City. They’ve announced Mystic River Falls, which will open (this) year. The ride, with all the complementary pieces, is right at a $30 million investment. Silver Dollar City’s 60th anniversary is (this) year. The Mystic River Falls investment caps off a decade of $100 million-plus that they’ve invested in Silver Dollar City.

SBJ: How do you assess Johnny Morris’ impact?
Arjes: Tiger Woods’ first and only publicly accessible course – are you kidding me? Mr. Morris, I’ve said it before, he’s an economic developer’s dream. He’s investing millions, if not hundreds of millions, in our area and doing an incredible job with quality. He deserves a lot of the credit. We can only imagine the earned media that already has happened and that will happen with the opening of Payne’s Valley. Timing, luck and talent: If you have two of those, you should be in pretty good shape. The timing of Tiger’s career and the talent of Mr. Morris and what he’s developing in the southwest corner of our county, I think it’s going to be hugely beneficial to the Branson tourism market.

SBJ: Bass Pro Shops chose not to renew the Legends tournament sponsorship at Big Cedar Lodge. Does that have lasting implications?
Arjes: That was a little bit of a surprise, but I’m not going to rule out that they don’t do something else … that’s maybe even more impactful than Legends. If you stack up the design/architect groups and individuals when you look at Big Cedar’s portfolio of courses, you can arguably put that up against any or all major more known golf destinations throughout the country and in the world. Golf is going to play a big part in our future.

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