Summer Festivals: More than a Good Time

by Chris Peraza

The Economic Impact of Community Festivals

What is the single best way for a small business owner to create brand awareness, create goodwill with their customers, and drive sales? The answer: community involvement.

We are not talking about simply making a few donations to the the local shelter (if you are making donations, You’re Awesome…Keep up the great work!) We are talking about taking an active role in improving the quality of life and culture of the community through local festivals.

Case In Point: The 2016 Steel Horse Rally

According to figures released by event organizers, this single event helped generate an estimated $8 million economic spike in a single weekend. It is estimated that this rally attracted 25,000 bikes and 37,500 enthusiasts from all over the country. These visitors not only helped raise charitable funds through ticket sales but also triggered a wave of activity that rippled throughout the city.

Hotel rooms were booked for the entire weekend, restaurants were packed for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and best of all, many small businesses received hundreds of new customers, all interested in their unique products. The economic impact of festivals such as this inspire others to take action.

I was fortunate enough to have a conversation with one of Fort Smith’s young community leaders, Griffin Hanna of Hanna Oil and Gas. Hanna is a member of the Border Town Ales for Trails committee which has come together to create a music event promoting craft beers. With a growing number of craft beer brewers in Ft. Smith and the surrounding area, this first year themed event will raise money to benefit the Fort Smith trail system. (see Parks & Trails, pg 28)

In an evening meeting at Fort Smith’s Core Public House (a must for any craft beer lover) we discussed not only the economic and cultural impact of these types of grassroots festivals, but also the importance of getting the city’s young professionals and young tradesmen involved with our community festivals.

We realize that many of our friends refused to stay in Fort Smith after graduation. And those who did stay often run off to larger metropolitan areas for the weekend in search of “something to do.” Both scenarios are concerns for many business communities.

On the surface this may seem perfectly harmless, but think back to the economic impact generated by The Steel Horse Rally. People on short weekend trips out of town often involve a few meals, some shopping and a trip to a gas station. Over time this leads to a substantial economic drain on our local economy. All those trips out of town mean that hard earned cash goes to other communities. Money going elsewhere is not being invested locally!

By simply providing something to do, we can keep our talented youth and their wallets invested in our great city and all the small businesses that make Fort Smith such an amazing place to live. This philosophy creates a snowball effect.

As we continue to create and support grassroots efforts, young talent begins to realize that they too can make a difference in their community. This realization leads to the emergence of young leadership.

So how can you help?

The answer is simple: sponsor or volunteer at some of the many fine events that will be taking place this summer.

Along with making these events possible, your involvement will show that you are invested in this city, that your business is not just looking to make a buck, that you want to make this a better place to live.

If your budget is too small for sponsorship, no problem. Buy tickets! If you have too little time to volunteer, no problem. Just go and enjoy the event!

I’d love to help, but my budget is too small and I don’t have time!

Fort Smith is becoming a vibrant city…molded by our passions and driven by our community. We can all become a part of moving the City forward to reach a potential that continues to bring more visitors to our City. For this to become a reality we need to keep this desire for growth and renewal alive by keeping it local.

To the young professionals and trades people, we say, “Now it’s your turn. How will you choose to leave your mark on The Fort?”


Chris Peraza is a graduate of the BA Marketing program at University of Arkansas at Fort Smith. When he’s not writing, he’s out exploring the Arkansas trail system on his mountain bike and supporting the local craft beer community.