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App to calculate events' impact

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Deborah Malenfant

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Monday, February 18, 2019

When big community events happen in Pasquotank County, how do you figure out their economic impact?

Turns out there’s an app for that, say Elizabeth City and Pasquotank officials.

It’s called an Event Impact Calculator, and City Council recently agreed the city should spend $1,533 toward the one-year cost of using the software offered by Destinations International.

The calculator uses national, state and local data to model and estimate the economic impact of community events, such as by estimating spending on goods and services like food and lodging, plus the tax revenues that come with such spending.

Deborah Malenfant and Corinna Ferguson, executive directors of Elizabeth City Downtown Inc. and the Elizabeth City Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, respectively, recommended the software to city councilors at their recent finance committee meeting.

Malenfant said council often wants to know the economic impact of events, such as the NC Potato Festival, and if the city’s getting a good return on taxpayer money invested in those events. Local officials now rely on partial, “anecdotal” information to estimate events’ impact, she said.

Malenfant said that, after staff discussions, including with City Manager Rich Olson and County Manager Sparty Hammett, she and Ferguson recommended Destinations International’s economic impact calculator over competing software.

Malenfant called Destinations International’s calculator the “industry standard” for determining economic impact. She also proposed the city and county each contribute one third of the software’s $4,600 cost, with the CVB paying the remaining third.

According to Malenfant, the software can model specific events, such as different kinds and sizes of athletic tournaments, to better determine the formats that would generate the most visitor spending.

Councilor Johnnie Walton questioned whether the city needed the software, and expressed concerns its findings could be used against events that are worth supporting even if their economic impact is minimal.

Malenfant said that was not the intent of the proposal. Some events are worth funding for their “community value,” not just economic value, she said.

Councilor Billy Caudle asked who would be allowed to use the software. Ferguson said the software would be used and accessed through the CVB, but it would be available for free to community partners, such as Elizabeth City State University, if it wanted to model its events’ economic impact.

Following the discussion, councilors approved the expense unanimously last week. The city’s share for the calculator software will be paid out of tourism funds. Pasquotank County commissioners will similarly consider funding the program through county tourism dollars on Monday, County Clerk Lynn Scott said.

In a followup interview, Ferguson reiterated her belief the software will provide more accurate, comprehensive economic estimates than local staff can provide. It pulls together federal and state data, plus tax information and local demographics, that would be time-consuming for staff to compile, she said. That data should allow for more accurate economic estimates even without field research at local events, she added.

Ferguson said the software model was developed by an economist years ago and is regularly updated and refined. If local officials find the software’s estimates to be inaccurate or questionable, they don’t have to renew the calculator’s license next year, she added.

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