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Economic boost: Potato fest had $300K in impact

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Jeremy Meads (left) and Chris Williamson, representing Piedmont Natural Gas, compete in the team competition of the National Potato Peeling contest at the N.C. Potato Festival, Saturday, May 18. This year's three-day Potato Festival brought in more than $300,000 to Elizabeth City and Pasquotank County, the city and county's tourism director reported this week.

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Saturday, July 20, 2019

This year's Potato Festival brought in more than $300,000 to Elizabeth City and Pasquotank County, the city and county's tourism director reported this week.

Tourism Development Authority Director Corinna Ferguson reported the festival's economic impact during Thursday's meeting of Elizabeth City Downtown Inc., which funds and organizes the three-day event.

The Tourism Development Authority calculated the event's economic benefit by using the Event Impact Calculator software that it leased earlier this year from Destinations International.

Ferguson explained the impact calculation is based on surveys of festival attendees to build a sample representative of the event's estimated 42,000 attendees. With 313 survey results, the authority has a 95-percent confidence level in its calculations, she said.

Based on the surveys, the authority estimated the festival had 25,454 unique visitors; the 42,000 figure included people who attended two or all three days of the event.

The authority also estimated only 8 percent of the festival's attendees were overnight visitors, while 8 percent lived close enough to Elizabeth City to be “day-trippers.” Eighty-four percent of festival attendees were local, Ferguson said.

She continued that, from a tourism and economic standpoint, overnight visitors were the most valuable, as they brought new spending to Elizabeth City, including hotel stays. Local attendees' spending is circulating money already in the community, she explained.

The authority's impact calculations estimate the Potato Festival drew 422 overnight attendees and 3,869 day attendees, generating $211,550 in direct business sales and roughly another $92,000 in indirect sales. The event also helped support 143 jobs, directly and indirectly, and created an “estimated room demand” of 480, her presentation shows.

Even discounting local spending, the authority's impact calculation indicates the Potato Festival pays for itself several times over. ECDI spends roughly $90,000 a year on the event, most of that recouped in business sponsorships.

Board members asked if the authority would also calculate the impact of this fall's homecoming for Elizabeth City State University. Ferguson said she would need help to do so.

She explained that large, open events like the Potato Festival and ECSU Homecoming make it difficult to determine how many people, and from where, are attending. It's far easier to calculate the impact of events with ticket sales, such as sporting events, she noted.

Like Potato Festival, Ferguson said the authority would need to survey attendees to estimate homecoming's value. Members suggested reaching out to ECSU to see if it could provide marketing students or others to help.

Ferguson said after the meeting she will also present her impact numbers to the authority board when it meets next week.