Fair and festival season in West Virginia provides more than candy apples, musical acts and livestock competitions; it also helps fuel the economies of local communities.
Fairs and festivals bring in outside dollars to the region, and the events also offer visitors a glimpse of a town that organizers hope prompts a return visit during the off-season. Hundreds of fairs, festivals and related events dot the calendar all during the year, but especially during the summer and fall. The largest of the fairs is going on this week with the State Fair of West Virginia having its 10-day run in Fairlea.
John Deskins, director of West Virginia University’s Bureau for Business and Economic Research located in the College of Business and Economics, said large festivals that bring visitors from outside of the region also bring in more money.
“The more and more that come from outside the region, that’s where the economic impact comes from,” Deskins said.
“If there are longer events, and they stay overnight, that’s more money,” Deskins said. “But anywhere they spend money – usually in the leisure and hospitality industry, like gas, hotels, groceries, anything they spend at the actual fair. All the entertainment options at the fair and in the region. All of that is putting money into the local economy.”
Deskins said that the more activity in leisure will spill over into broader activity and have a multiplier effect.
“If I spend an extra $100 in a hotel, that’s an extra $100 the owner has, so he’s going to spend that on other stuff, and the employees will get part of that money, so it’s a ripple effect,” Deskins said.
The initial injection of spending creates more spending in the state, Deskins said. Similar to West Virginia University home football games, the initial impact is seen in leisure and hospitality fields but eventually affects other industries.
While the festival often offers a first-look at a town for visitors, organizers hope it isn’t the last.
“There’s a ton of community pride in these fairs and festivals; it’s a great way to draw visitors in and provide services that aren’t always offered year-round,” said Doug Arbogast, a rural tourism specialist at West Virginia University in the Community, Economic and Workforce Development unit of Extension Service. “The goal is to get people into a destination to see what they have to do and eat and see, and then have them come back during a different time of year. But the festival draws them in.”
Arbogast noted the Mountain State Forest Festival in Elkins, the Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting and the Maple Syrup Festival in Pickens will bring visitors to the area often during the town’s slow time of year and the festival acts as the marketing for the town.
“A lot of times, there isn’t a ton of marketing or advertising or a huge budget for that,” Arbogast said. “But a lot goes into promoting fairs and festivals, and when that brings visitors, that brings money. People will have a good time, enjoy themselves, and they want to come back. And many wouldn’t have gone if it wasn’t for the festival.”
The West Virginia Legislature designated more than 1.8 million for fiscal year 2016 to the fairs and festivals budget, and the West Virginia Division of Culture and History then manages the distribution of those funds, according to Caryn Gresham, deputy commissioner for the West Virginia Division of Culture and History. Additionally, a few fairs and festivals, such as the State Fair of West Virginia, receive funds through legislatively designated line items, which the budget totals about 1.02 million.
Arbogast said festivals, and the subsequent visits, help these smaller, more rural towns that otherwise don’t have much support.
“The festivals are huge fundraisers for local organizations and local groups; it’s a huge part of sustainable tourism development, which stays in the community,” Arbogast said. “It’s an ability to create and awareness of what they have to offer – through a community effort – and people are very proud of their communities. And they want to share that.”
CONTACT: Cassie Thomas; WVU Extension Service
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