Right about this time of year, every year, Minnesota can be known not only as the Land of 10,000 Lakes, but also the Land of 10,000 Festivals. It seems every small town found in every nook and cranny of the state holds some type of summer celebration. The festivals have not only social benefits, but great economic benefits to communities as well. Most of these festivals are rooted in some type of tradition. But no matter how they started, these events are growing forms of tourism, especially in rural areas that are struggling. Community events can be a way to revitalize local economies. Drawing people to these areas for a few days each summer can have huge benefits. Fairs and festivals bring in outside dollars to the region, and the events give communities a chance to show off, give visitors a glimpse of what they have to offer in hopes it prompts a return visit during the off-season.
St. Peter is a prime example. By many opinions, St. Peter is a quaint, special community with a special look and specialty shops that add to the ambiance of the town. Getting outsiders to notice it, is one aim of the many festivals it holds each summer.
The city features music festivals, such as Ambassadors’ Blues and the Rock Bend Folk Festival, but also traditional gatherings like the Old-Fashioned July 4 celebration and the Nicollet County Fair.
“St. Peter’s festivals help elevate the community’s ‘cool factor’ that is communicated all over the state and region,” says Ed Lee, president of St. Peter Chamber of Commerce. “Gathering places like the Food Co-op, Arts Center of St. Peter, Treaty Site History Center, along with dozens of unique, aesthetic businesses, blend together to create the St. Peter feeling. It’s difficult to describe, but everyone knows it. We’re flattered that St. Peter is getting noticed on tourism lists like “the top 10 places to visit in Minnesota” and the “the top 10 places to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Minnesota.” Summer festivals play into the cool factor.”
But the many gatherings create more than just buzz, they also create a boom for the local economy. Lee estimates that nearly 35,000 people visit St. Peter each summer.
“We are positive these festivals generate dollars for businesses and organizations, so there are direct benefits,” he says. “Tens of thousands of dollars are spent making the festivals attractive with investments ranging from popular musicians to giant inflatable obstacle courses to groceries for concessions all the way to a large number of porta-potties. So, the events themselves represent mini economies serving the broader community economy. More than anything, we get a thrill out of hosting festivals because we love parties and making memories. The community very much appreciates the support from attendees and sponsors, because dollars are part of the big picture. Festivals are pieces of the grand quality of life puzzle. All of the pieces represent strategies to keep St. Peter financially strong, hoppin’ and happenin’.”
It’s a similar phenomenon in Nicollet. With a population of just over one thousand people, the town triples that for three days each summer. By the time the event concludes with a Grand Parade on Sunday afternoon, nearly 3,000 people are in attendance.
“Friendship Days is the biggest town event of the year, that the entire greater Nicollet area supports 100%. The impact on town businesses is huge, including the Nicollet American Legion as it is one of our major fund raisers that enables them to provide community and school support, keeps the Friendship Hall open for benefits, meetings, dances, and other civic events,” says Del Vulcan, organizer of the event.
In Fairmont, the community holds an annual celebration known as Interlaken Heritage Days. It is a three-day event that takes place throughout the community with a variety of attractions and events. This year’s Interlaken Heritage Days celebration will take place June 9-11. The specifics change somewhat from year to year, but there is always a parade, a street dance at least one night, games, and food vendors. There are also thousands of people attending, spending thousands of dollars at local establishments.
“Although I don’t have specific dollar amounts, I do know that it certainly is an economic driver for our community,” says Visit Fairmont executive director Stephanie Busiahn. “Locals are out and about taking in the festivities, we have out of town guests and family members here visiting, all doing business at local shops, restaurants, gas stations. Festivals take a lot of time and man power to pull off, but the economic impact they have on communities usually play a big part in their success and life span.”
Every second weekend in July thousands of people converge on the city of Blue Earth. Cindy Lyons with the Blue Earth Chamber says, like Fairmont, Giant Days is an event that attracts outsiders as well as people who just want to come home for a bit.
“It’s the time when schools plan for their class reunions and families plan around the event as well,” she says. “Another big attraction is the 5K. We have runners coming from everywhere.”
For communities wanting some data to guide them, there are many ways to measure the economic impact of a special event. Start with evaluating the costs and benefits to the host community, that would include measuring direct costs and revenues to organizers. Although it is sometimes just an estimation, it is important to effort to try to measure total attendance, visitor expenditures, vendor expenditures and revenues, plus organizers’ expenditures. Also, keep track of any employment bumps that happen during the festival or event.
There are a variety of industries that can be impacted by the introduction of new money into the economy, even on a short term basis. Those include bars and restaurants, general merchandise stores, souvenir shops, hotel lodging or other accommodations, purchases from vendors present at the event, as well as gasoline.
Explore Minnesota did an economic impact study for every county in the state, and the southern Minnesota region had some good numbers. According to the study, in the nine-county region Connect Business Magazine covers, Blue Earth County had the highest economic draw from tourism. The figures, from 2015, show gross sales of $192,778,355 for Blue Earth County. Even the lowest in our area, Sibley County, brought in $8,187,971. Explore Minnesota pegs the total economic impact of tourism for our nine-county region in 2015 at $203,618,103. (Sources: Minnesota Department of Revenue and Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.)
The social benefits of festivals are less visible, but they are just as important. Festivals can strengthen relationships by fostering community pride and teaching people new things. Planning and conducting festivals involves many volunteers and is truly a community effort.
Experts say among the social benefits is hometown pride. Hometown pride can be a critical factor in the development, sustainability and improvement of any community. Residents with community pride are more likely to volunteer with organizations and activities that support the common good and to speak positively about their town to others.
Festivals promote communities and hometown pride by celebrating things that make a town special and evoke good feelings. Those things can be as “big” as ethnic heritage, or as “small” as a piece of pastry.
“There are some great things that happen to a community during a community festival. It provides the community a reason to celebrate and brings people together,” says Busiahn.
How to Organize Your Own Community Event
A community festival is a great way to connect local citizens, it is a big undertaking and requires numerous volunteers which adds to the community bonding.
Tip number one is to start early. Planning really needs to begin months ahead of time.
Next, decide what type of community festival you want. That will be based on the goal or mission of the festival. Is it just to get residents more involved? Or is it to raise money for a specific cause or project? A clear goal will aid in planning and marketing the event to others in the community and beyond.
Third, form a citizen committee. Keep in mind you will need people from a variety of backgrounds and can bring varied skillsets to the table.For instance, some will need to be good at the big picture, while others will need to be more detail oriented and organized to carry through on the smaller tasks.
Developing a public relations and marketing plan for the event will also be key. Make local media your ally to get publicity for the festival.
And finally, as you get started, find out what permitting or other requirements there are for holding a community event. There may be city or county requirements for parking, security, or if you sell food or alcohol there will likely be permits and guidelines for you to follow.