It’s an American tradition that continues unabated, thank goodness. Kids start smiling a little wider in the weeks before the big day. Neighborhood dogs pick up on the excitement, wagging their tails with abandon. Moms and dads prepare for days of high strung adventure, followed by the easily predictable collapse of exhausted young ‘uns. Wait a year and the whole process repeats. The circus is coming to town. Rejoice!
Now in all honesty, it doesn’t matter if it’s the circus coming to town, the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas (often abbreviated to read SXSW), the Eastern States Exposition in Springfield, Massachusetts (more frequently referred to by locals as The Big E), or the Tillamook County Fair in Oregon.
What gets the local chamber of commerce excited about all these events is the draw they create. Folks come from the countryside to the city to see the sights, or they come from the surrounding counties to the fairgrounds to enter their prize bull in competition, or they fly an airplane from one side of the continent to the other so they can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with tens of thousands of other aviation minded folks in one of the truly great aeronautical spectacles on the planet.
This is what economic opportunity looks like. Whether the event’s logo features clown in full makeup, a movie star, or a kid chewing on an ear of corn — it doesn’t make one bit of difference.
There are major and minor festivals, carnivals, conventions, and expositions from one corner of our nation to the other, and it is to our great benefit that aviation plays a role in many of them. In fact, our aeronautical interests take center stage as the primary focus of a handful of major events each year.
Which means we aviation nuts can take a bow right alongside the major festivals intended to celebrate film, music, the strawberry harvest, this year’s corn crop, and the wonder of maple syrup production.
Yes, I’m talking economics. Money. Cash flow. The magical principle of what happens when people from out of town come to your local area, spend money, and leave with a smile on their face and a song in their heart.
This fiscal reality matters to the general aviation community more than it does to those other festival and special event organizers for the simple reason that few communities are trying to rid themselves of clowns or maple trees. It’s rare that a city puts the kibosh on a music series or a film festival. Nope, we welcome the fruitcake toss festival, and the international rotten sneaker contest, and even the Bonnie and Clyde Festival that celebrates a pair of dangerous psychopaths from the Great Depression.
But aviation? That’s where a disquieting number of communities decide to draw the line.
Would those communities be so quick and relentless in their opposition of aviation if they knew the real economic impact it can bring to their doorsteps? I doubt it.
Let’s consider two major aviation events as examples. AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, is the gold standard, with Lakeland, Florida’s SUN ‘n FUN International Fly-In and Expo taking the silver medal in terms of size and scope.
SUN ‘n FUN is going on right now. As much of the northern portion of the country struggles to shake off the frigid mantle of winter, thousands upon thousands of people have gathered in central Florida to walk amongst the airplanes, rub elbows with legends like Buzz Aldrin (the second man to walk on the moon) and maybe even take a ride in an open cockpit biplane so they can experience the way aviation used to be — and still is for many of us.
SUN ‘n FUN’s economic impact on the region has been calculated to be something on the order of $64 million. AirVenture nearly doubles that with a whopping $110 million effect. That’s real money. Big money. And it repeats year after year.
Aviation brings real value to these communities. Whether you like airplane noise or hate it, there’s a case to be made that aviation is a boon to the people and businesses of Wisconsin and central Florida. If a new customer walks into your restaurant, movie theater, book store, or clothing shop to make a purchase, does it really matter to you what their hobbies are or in what industry they make their living? Of course not. A sale is a sale. And a sale to an out-of-towner who brought money into your economy from their hometown is a bonus.
More important to the average reader than the economic impact of SUN ‘n FUN and AirVenture is the origin of the two events. Both began as humble ideas, essentially over a kitchen table. A small group of friends simply got sidetracked talking about what might come to pass if they could gather up a few volunteers to help. They faced hurdles, but they cleared them. They’ve had bad weather and economic downturns to wrestle with, yet they’ve persevered.
Everything that could dissuade them from continuing with their planning and execution of the master plan has happened, and still they keep on planning, keep on executing, and keep on bringing dollars into their economy year after year.
It’s been said, from small things, big things come. SUN ‘n FUN and AirVenture certainly prove that adage to be true.
Which begs the question, how many more aeronautical events could be going on in our sizable nation’s market? How many more communities might become richer, more diverse, better known, and incentivize greater investment by simply embracing the odd ideas of a small group of people gathered around a kitchen table postulating, “Hey, you know what we ought to do…”