The village of Cooperstown is preparing for one of its most high-profile tourists ever.
President Barack Obama will visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame there later today to promote tourism. Obama says tourism is an export and he wants to make it easier for foreign visitors to travel to the U.S.
He picked the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York to highlight tourism’s impact. Cooperstown is a "one-stoplight town" that attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors, and sustains hundreds of jobs.
As home to the Baseball Hall of Fame, the town of 2,000 people is on the map for tourists and baseball fans. But attendance at the museum has been waning over the past decade.
In 2013, 253,659 visitors wandered its corridors last year. That’s down from 316,613 in 2004.
President Obama wants to highlight tourism as an export and economic driver.
"Believe it or not, tourism is an export," Obama said in his last weekly address. "If we make it easier for more foreign visitors to visit and spend money at America's attractions and unparalleled national parks, that helps local businesses and grows the economy for everyone."
He’ll make a short trip to the hall of fame late this afternoon and that will boost attention at the start of a busy summer.
Excitement in town, and at the museum, is palpable, said Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson.
"The hope is that he has a chance to enjoy himself a little bit, but the fact that he’s coming to Cooperstown and giving a speech at the hall of fame speaks volumes onto itself and should be incredibly meaningful," he said.
The hall of fame will be closed for the day – a rare occurrence – and the event is private. Obama is the first president to ever visit there. The baseball Mecca, the nation’s oldest sports hall of fame, is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year.
"Using us as a platform to talk about tourism speaks volumes to the place we hold in America and Americana," Idelson said.
Deb Taylor, executive director of Otsego County’s tourism office, says the town’s been getting ready by fixing sidewalks and tidying up lawns.
"People are just anxious; excited that he’ll be visiting. And I think it’s really important," she said. "We’re sort of quintessential small town America so I think it will really, hopefully be an eye-opener to him to see that we have such a wide variety of tourism products here."
Anti-fracking protestors are also ready. They've scheduled a late-morning rally.
Taylor jokes that her two decades of work is finally being recognized by landing such a high-profile tourist.
"I hope it will be interesting for him," she said.