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Jr. High Rodeo to lasso $10M for economy

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Lebanon Wilson County Chamber employees check people in to Business After Hours in the shadow of the Chamber's custom-painted bull. ZACK OWENSBY / The Wilson Post

All automotive businesses, restaurants, hotels to be affected

Be prepared.

Although it's the Boy Scouts' slogan, it was the message being told by organizers of the 2016 Jr. High Rodeo to local business owners Thursday night.

The Lebanon Wilson County Chamber of Commerce hosted Business After Hours at the James E. Ward Agricultural Center's East West Building, which will be the site of the next two National Jr. High Rodeo Finals, to explain the economic impact to the community.

The events are scheduled for June 19-25, 2016, and June 18-24, 2017.

National Jr. High Rodeo Finals by the numbers

Some of the actual numbers of the event are staggering. In addition to bringing in thousands of people, organizers will be delivering truckloads of materials to stage the event successfully.

  • 1,100 participants

  • Approx. 10,000 people total

  • $10 million expected economic impact
  • 6,000 hotel nights

  • 1,100-1,200 additional stalls for horses, livestock brought in

  • 17 tractor trailer loads of steel fencing

  • Several truckloads of banners for promotion

  • Hundreds of golf carts

    • The single-largest golf cart rental contract in the world (event is co-sponsored by ClubCar)

    • $170,000 fuel bill for golf carts alone

  • 36,000-square-feet of vendor space

  • 950 campsites at the fairgrounds

"Our rodeo is the largest organized rodeo in the world," said Austin White, marketing director for the National High School Rodeo Association. "To give you an example of the size of the event, there is not a single facility in Texas big enough to host it."

Economic impact expected to be huge

In years past, the event has been hosted at locations west of the Mississippi River, such as Iowa and Wyoming. Next year's event in Lebanon will be the first time it will be held east of the Mississippi, which organizers believe will boost participation numbers.

And the proximity to Nashville is expected to be a big draw itself.

In total, White said he expects the 2016 rodeo to make a $10 million economic impact on the local economy.

"We are expecting 1,100 participants, and each participant will bring more than four other people with them," NHSRA President Ronnie Haslerig said. "We are hoping for more than 10,000 people to come into Lebanon for this event.

"Families will be here in town for 10 to 12 days. We won't leave until it's over. And when we're here, families will need bread, milk, tires, campers, you name it.

"Last year, in Iowa, we had about 1,000 participants, and it brought in about $9 million for the economy there. We expect next year, because of the location, to bring in even more."

Rodeo asks for support

Because of the influx on people on Wilson County, local business owners, chamber members and residents were told of ways to help support the event.

"We are asking that local businesses be prepared for what the participants' families will need," White said.

"We hope the local restaurants will stay open later to help feed them since some of the events don't finish until 9 or 10 p.m. Local camper companies will need to stock up on extra air conditioners and hot water heaters for the trailers. If anyone has a camper or trailer, they will rent it. There are not enough campers for rent in Middle Tennessee to fulfill the demand."

Wilson County Convention and Visitors Bureau will be heading up event registration, which will begin at noon on Thursday and finish promptly Sunday. Director Terri Merryman said they will need 25 volunteers to form an "all access team" to help.

Auto mechanics, tire shops and car dealers were told to expect an increase, as well.

"Because of the strict registrations of when participants have to register, it's not uncommon for the families to not fix truck or trailer problems until they get here," White added. "They will need engine work. They will ask the locals where they take their vehicles because they don't want to get taken advantage of. Some of them will simply go to the nearest dealer and trade in their vehicle and just get a new one. By Saturday, there probably won't be a trailer tire for sale anywhere in town."

Ag Center preparing

After receiving the contract for the event, Agricultural Commissioner Chair Jeff Joines said the Ag Center began preparing for it.

"The grounds itself is probably about 85-percent ready," Joines said. "The biggest part left to complete are the campsites. The rodeo requires 950 campsites, and we have about 750 ready to go. Each week we install a few more."

Funding for the improvement is coming directly from the Ag Center budget, Joines said. However, a $400,000 grant from the State of Tennessee has helped defer much of the costs.

In addition to the grant, the state has promised in-kind support from the Tennessee Department of Tourism, Department of Transportation and Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency, which will be helping organize the shooting competition at Long Hunter State Park.

The Expo Center, however, was not part of Wilson County's original proposal, Joines added. The event is scheduled to be held in existing facilities and large tents on the grounds.

"The Expo Center, if it gets finished in time for the event, would be a bonus," Joines said.

The build-out for the center will take approximately nine months, he added. Crews have not broken ground yet on construction.

Chamber, Ag Center to promote the event with 'bulls'

To help raise money and awareness for the event, the chamber is selling wooden bulls to local businesses, and even residents, who want to support the rodeo.

The bulls, which are approximately 7 feet long and 5 feet tall, are for sale for $250 for one year, $400 for both years. Supporters are encouraged to paint and decorate the bulls as they want to help gain attention and awareness for the event.

"Rodeo people are loyal to the brand of rodeo," Joines said. "If people see one of these bulls in front, they'll stop in."

And another major requirement of the rodeo association is that all participants wear their back number at all times unless they are "sleeping or swimming," Haslerig said.

"They have to wear their back numbers at all times for two reasons. First, it's a great reminder of the rodeo when businesses and locals see the kids out everywhere with their numbers on. Everyone local will be able to see the impact the rodeo brings. Second, if one of them acts up somewhere, you can give us their back number, and we'll find out who it is," he laughed.

"But these cowboys, they're the best bunch of kids you'll ever see."

Managing Editor Zack Owensby may be contacted at

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business, economic development, economy, fairgrounds, James E. Ward Ag Center, Jr. High National Rodeo Finals, Lebanon Wilson Chamber of Commerce, rodeo
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