South Dakota's Black Hills might be a world-famous tourism destination, but when it comes to visitor spending it's Minnehaha County in southeast South Dakota that ranked No. 1 in 2015, according to a study published by the South Dakota Department of Tourism.
Minnehaha County accounted for about a fourth of all tourism spending in 2015. Pennington County, home to Mount Rushmore, was No. 2, and accounted for about a fifth of all tourism spending that year.
Minnehaha County is home to the state's largest city, Sioux Falls, which dominates the state economically and drives growth in surrounding counties. The city's financial sector fuels a vibrant business environment, the state's highest wages and low unemployment.
On the other side of the state is Pennington County, home to the second-largest city of Rapid City and longtime anchor to the state's tourism industry. Tourism is often referred to as the second-largest industry behind agriculture. As a region, the 15 counties that make up the Black Hills & Badlands region remained the leader in tourism followed closely by the 14-county Southeast region.
The study defines tourism spending as money spent on lodging, food/beverage, retail, recreation and transportation based on a survey of visitors cross-checked against several other statistical sources that measure taxes, travel and employment data.
Here's a look at 2015 tourism spending by region:
- Black Hills & Badlands -- $1.5 billion
- Pennington County -- $701 million
- Southeast -- $1.4 billion
- Minnehaha County -- $998 million
- Glacial Lakes -- $591 million
- Brown County -- $180 million
- Missouri River -- $311 million
- Hughes County -- $80 million
The Southeast region grew faster than the Black Hills & Badlands region from 2014 to 2015, 4.8 percent compared to 2.1 percent. The Black Hills & Badlands region accounted for more than half of all 2015 lodging sales.
The Black Hills & Badlands region also includes the state's No. 3 county for tourism spending, Lawrence County, where tourists spent $475 million in 2015. Lawrence County is home to the historic Wild West and modern-day gambling town of Deadwood along with winter skiing and snow sports plus the town of Spearfish along Interstate 90.
Here are the top 10 counties for 2015:
- Minnehaha -- $998 million
- Pennington -- $701 million
- Lawrence -- $475 million
- Brown -- $180 million
- Davison -- $107 million
- Custer -- $102 million
- Codington -- $99 million
- Brookings -- $91 million
- Hughes -- $80 million
- Yankton -- $71 million
The study concluded that the tourism industry directly supported 36,377 jobs statewide in 2015 and generated $734 million in wages.