Converse a Culinary Capital?

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State tourism and agriculture officials believe a new partnership, aimed at making Indiana an agritourism and culinary destination, could have particular impact in rural Indiana. The strategy, announced this weekend on Inside INdiana Business Television, will focus on policy, education and marketing issues in an effort to grow segments of the economy that are described as "Indiana's calling cards." Indiana Office of Tourism Development Executive Director Mark Newman says the state already has substantial assets in an industry expected to top $1 billion nationally in 2017. "Both culinary tourism and agritourism are the fastest-growing sectors out there," said Newman. "And when you think of Indiana and the raw product that we have to offer, it's a natural."

Newman points to the town of Converse, near the Miami-Grant County line, as an example of a small community already rebranding itself around a culinary focus.

Newman thinks the initiative can be a success because the state is already an agritourism attraction. The opportunity, he says, will be in leveraging strengths in regional pockets and developing an overall statewide strategy.

Newman describes destinations like Fair Oaks Farms in northwest Indiana, Huber’s Orchard and Winery in southeast Indiana and more than 200 craft breweries, wineries and distilleries and 12,000 restaurants as a strong base for launching the initiative. In 2016, Fair Oaks Farms, the nation's only agriculture theme park, attracted more than 625,000 visitors.

A study conducted in 2012 pegged agritourism as a $700 million dollar industry nationwide, a figure that is expected to double this year. “So what we're talking about is a billion dollar industry by the end of 2017," said Newman. "That is significant and we would have significant market share."

Watch the full interview:

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