Economic impact evident

Friday, September 7, 2012
Creating the greatest, part 4 of 4: The Clay County Fair is known as the "World's Greatest County Fair." This four-part series will explore the factors and preparations that help it keep that title.

More than 300,000 attendees.

A total of 516 vendors.

Youth exhibitors from 40 counties in northwest Iowa and southwest Minnesota.

Those are some of the numbers associated with the Clay County Fair.

The economic impact of the nine-day event is a little more difficult to calculate.

"That is so hard to judge," Spencer Main Street Director Bob Rose said. "There are all sorts of figures that say visitors spend x amount of dollars per day when they're in our state. The 300,000 who attend the fair are not all visitors. Even if you figure 200,000 are from a greater distance and whatever figure you multiply that by comes out as a lot of money."

The Travel Federation of Iowa estimates Clay County's share of travel-related revenue at $83 million annually, but does not break that number down by month.

"One would have to guess the Clay County Fair is our Christmas," Spencer Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Bill Campbell said. "Hotels are full from the week before the fair through to part of the week after the fair. You'd have to think the majority of our figures -- although we have a lot of overflow from the Lakes in the summer -- our true Christmas has to be during the 15 days preceding, during and following the Clay County Fair."

Clay County Fair manager Jeremy Parsons hopes to have a better grasp on the fair's economic numbers in the future.

"We know there is economic impact, but the fair has never quantified that," Parsons said.

Both Parsons and Campbell expressed a desire to have an economic impact study done in the future to better demonstrate the full effect the fair has on Spencer and surrounding areas.

Campbell noted that hotel representatives say the fair "makes their fall months."

Though the gates for the Clay County Fair have yet to open, the economic impact to the area is already being experienced by hotels, convenience stores, grocery stores and other businesses and organizations. The impact on the community lingers throughout the year, thanks to the boost the fair provides to service clubs and other nonprofit organizations. (Photo by Gabe Licht)

"Now with the fair's philosophy of adding big entertainment the final day, it has really helped the accommodation industry and it carries into the next week," Campbell said.

Restaurants, bars, convenience stores and grocery stores also see positive numbers during the fair.

"The restaurants and lounges see increased traffic both preceding and following the fair," Campbell said. "A lot of it has to do with the few days preceding the fair as much as it does during the fair."

"Grocery stores do fantastic business, not just from the people visiting, but the vendors that buy their products from the grocery stores," Campbell continued.

Other retailers who benefit the most from the fair are those among the 516 vendors on the grounds.

"Our businesses have recognized the value of having a presence on the fairgrounds," Rose said. "Do people that attend the fair stop at a local business and make a purchase? Restaurants, service stations and that type of business do tremendous business. Does a furniture store do a lot of business? Probably not."

However, even if visitors do not patronize many businesses outside the fairgrounds, Rose believes those businesses still have an opportunity to make an impression.

"People are observing our community and I'm sure a lot of them think of us in the future when they're thinking about whatever goods or services they need," Rose said. "You can't put a price on that. It's just impossible."

For those involved with service clubs and nonprofit organizations, the fair's impact on the community is palpable.

"The good thing is it enables all those organizations to support community activities year-round with funds generated from the fair," Rose said. "It's a tremendous boost to the service clubs and organizations of our community."

Some organizations rely solely on fair fundraisers to fund their budgets, something that could not happen in most communities.

"Former fair manager Jim Frost said, 'There's no way in the world that a town of 11,000 should be able to do this,'" Rose recalled.

And yet, thousands will begin pouring into the Clay County Fairgrounds on Saturday, bringing millions of dollars in economic impact with them.

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