Former Ohio Gov. James Rhodes used to reproach people complaining about dirty, stinky factories by declaring, “That’s the smell of jobs and progress.”
If the late governor came to Summit County in July these days, he might see economic progress in traffic jams, crowded hotels and 40-minute waits at restaurants.
It’s all because the world is coming to this area to celebrate great golf, “immortal” football players, the joys of multiple births and the thrill of gravity-powered vehicles.
The Bridgestone Invitational, which starts bringing people into town today, annually attracts 80,000 fans, many of them rich. The Pro Football Hall of Fame ceremonies in Stark County attract thousands of free-spending football fans to induction ceremonies, which will be Saturday, preceded by a parade seen by an estimated 200,000 people and followed the next day by a football game at the 22,375-seat Fawcett Stadium. The All-American Soap Box Derby over the weekend brought in more than 500 racers and their families. The Twins Days Festival in Twinsburg this Friday through Sunday attracts thousands more, two by two.
All of those people need a place to stay, a place to eat and many places to have fun.
“It means people are coming in town and seeing all the wonderful options we have in addition to the event they are going to attend,” said Gregg Mervis, president of the Summit County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Parents and families are going to partake in activities in the National Park, Stan Hywet, riding the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, dining in our restaurants, staying in hotels, filling up their gas tanks and going back home to talk about us.”
Individual businesses know what’s coming and add workers, hours of operation and stock their shelves, but economists have difficulty estimating the full consequences of bringing so many tourists into the area.
Summit County records show the bed tax for the third quarter, when all of these events happen, is more than 40 percent greater than the second quarter most years.
The city of Green, not far from the golf tournament, already has eight hotels with 737 rooms and plans for more. The Hampton Inn there is adding 23 rooms, and the new Residence Inn near Interstate 77 and Arlington Road will have 80 rooms designed for longer stays.
A study in 2011 estimated the golf tournament added $21 million to the area economy. The derby did its own study and pegged its value at $4.5 million. The studies, however, use different methods, assess different factors and do not pretend to measure every dollar spent.
While people will leave the area without a lot of their money, they will take home their memories. It also helps that millions more see the events on television.
That adds up to invaluable public relations.
“We’re on TV in over 220 countries. That’s over 80 million potential households and we have over 400 credentialed journalists from all four corners of the world, and it’s a great way to expose the great things that are happening in Akron,” said Don Padgett, executive director of the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational.
Rebecca Guzy Woodford, senior vice president of the Greater Akron Chamber, said it helps when executives looking at investing in a new area are familiar with Akron.
“Hearing Akron attached to a positive sporting, international event just reinforces that Akron is on the map,” she said.
She was unaware of any “site selectors” coming to the tournament this year to scout for investors, but said companies use the golf tournament to entertain business partners every year.
The business dynamics also work on a smaller scale and year-round, according to Joe Mazur, Soap Box Derby president.
He said every participant worldwide must use derby floorboards and wheels that are made in Akron. Materials for each car cost about $600, and there are thousands of competitors worldwide. A contingent from New Zealand ships home a huge crate with parts for next year’s competitors and the car that competes this year.
The derby also has broken out of its former pattern of being limited to only one weekend a year. This year, the organization had 70 events at Derby Downs in South Akron, including races, conventions, parties and other functions. In all, Mazur said the derby operates with a $1.2 million budget.
“We are trying to get the story out that we are more than one race and one week,” he said.
Dave Scott can be reached at 330-996-3577 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Scott on Twitter at Davescottofakro.