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Where's the beef?

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DALLUS WHITFIELD / The Wilson Post

Although it's tough to put a dollar figure on the economic impact the National Junior High Rodeo Finals are bringing to Lebanon, some are questioning: "Where is the $10 million in revenue organizers have quoted?"

The event hosted at the James E. Ward Ag Center kicked-off Sunday, June 19, and will conclude Saturday, June 25. Seven days of dirt, steer, horses, cowboys and cowgirls in light straw hats.

Approximately 1,049 participants from across the United States, Canada and Australia, with their families, friends and fans, have trotted into town for the competition - mixed with a bit of shopping, sightseeing and R&R.

So far, county leaders are only estimating a little more than 5,000 visitors have come to the county.

Hold your horses, folks. Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto and Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) Director Terri Merryman broke it down.

The mayor reiterated the event is expected to have a "$10 million impact" on Wilson County; however, both agreed there is no way to prove that until final numbers come in after the rodeo has ended.

This impact is spread out through sales tax, hotel/motel tax and providing amenities around town and supplies at the Ag Center.

"The contract is between the Ag Center and the Rodeo. They are giving the Ag Center X amount of dollars to provide so many camping sites and horse stalls - and the rodeo, all of the tickets they sold, they keep (that revenue)," Hutto said. "The way we make money is through the hotel/motel tax and sales tax. These folks are here every day."

Attempts were made to contact Ag Center Director Larry Tomlinson for information on the contract between the Ag Center and NJHR. Once he is reached, further information will be added.

Campsites offsetting the hotel stays

Hutto said that unlike the Wilson County Fair, which attracts close to 500,000 visitors - rodeo participants and their families don't only visit Wilson County - they live here for more than a week.

(While official attendance for the fair in 2015 was 557,702 - which including vendors, volunteers, competitors and fairgrounds staff - only $137,600 was collected as part of a $1 surcharge on all purchased tickets at the fairgrounds which is used to pay the bond on the Wilson County Expo Center. )

"They are buying groceries and gas. The vendors are buying some of their stuff here," he said. "That is really the $9-10 million impact."

However, about 900 campsites were installed and are in use at the Ag Center for the rodeo. Those family members who chose not to camp have their choice of 1,800 hotel rooms in the county, Merryman added.

Merryman could not confirm the percentage of hotel rooms filled during the event until data becomes available a couple weeks after the rodeo leaves town.

Dining costs calculated, as well

Merryman said that eating out and grocery shopping is also a big source of revenue.

"They eat out a lot. A lot of these people are in campers and come with grills, but they will go out to buy groceries once they are here," she said, noting that Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Sunset Restaurant and Demos Steakhouse have been quite popular with rodeo families. "They want to get out and experience the town."

The CVB provided dining information in 1,400 packets given out to rodeo contestants. And several local eateries have extended their hours until 11 p.m. or later to accommodate hungry competitors and their families who compete in the evening events which conclude at 9 p.m. or later.

10,000 visitors promised, only 5,120 estimated

NHSRA President Ronnie Haslerig stated to community leaders during planning meetings he hoped more than 10,000 visitors would make their way to Lebanon during the event.

But Merryman has estimated 5,120 people actually made the trip to Wilson County. Of the 1,049 participants - each brings on average three to five people with them, organizers said.

A formula from the State of Tennessee Tourism Department calculates that each tourist will spend $131 per day during their stay in the state.

Based on that formula, 5,120 visitors spend $670,720 per day. An important footnote to consider: there are approximately 900 families camping at the Ag Center instead of renting a hotel room, money that does not go back to the county in the form of hotel/motel tax, but leaves with the NJHRA with them.

Funding for the improvement and addition of campsites coming directly from the Ag Center budget, Agricultural Commission Chair Jeff Joines said in a previous interview. However, a $400,000 grant from the State of Tennessee has helped defer much of the costs.

Do big contracts make big dollars?

Because of the specific nature of the rodeo's needs, several businesses could be doing very well. Local camper rentals, tire and autor repair shops, restaurants and livestock feed businesses are expected to see an increase in business during rodeo week.

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

And another large contract - called the largest golf cart rental contract even written - the money from the partnership with Club Car to provide 750 golf carts for rent during the event also goes to the rodeo association and doesn't stay locally.

The rodeo is also keeping tickets sales and vendor fees. However, all sales at the marketplace setup on the fairground's midway are collecting Wilson County sales tax.

The best way to get paid attendance numbers may be to count $1 surcharges on purchased tickets that goes to the Expo Center bond, much like has been done with the Wilson County Fair.

"There is no way to tell until it is over, how many people came to the rodeo for the entire seven days," Merryman said. "All of that will be considered when the rodeo is over and we get those numbers."

So once the cowboys and cowgirls leave town, organizers will count the money to see how much money the rodeo was able to lasso.

The Wilson Post will follow up with this story as more information become available.

Staff Writer Sabrina Garrett may be contacted at sgarrett@wilsonpost.com.

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Tags: 
$10 million, hotel/motel tax, James E. Ward Ag Center, money, National finals, National High School Rodeo Association, National Junior High Rodeo Finals, restaurant, revenues, rodeo, taxes, tourism, Wilson County Fairgrounds
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