Craig found itself in a sea of blue corduroy jackets this week.
Emblazoned with the FFA logo and the FFA member’s hometown chapter, 1,500 of them converged in Craig from Tuesday through Thursday.
They could be seen in restaurants, filling local hotels and pools to the brim, and perusing local businesses during the little time they had off from the annual State FFA Convention.
That effect of filling local businesses has provided a boost in local revenues, and with the Colorado High School State Rodeo finals coming to Craig next week, businesses should continue to feel the benefits of added tourism, officials said.
FFA Foundation Executive Director Don Thorn said the FFA made initial estimates that they would contribute about $350,000 to Craig’s local economy during their stay.
“And I think that’s a very conservative estimate,” Thorn said. “I hope (the students) realize the economic impact they’ve been having.”
Marilyn Hill, Moffat County Tourism Association director, said she has received a lot of positive feedback on FFA’s presence in Craig.
“They’ve been eating fast food, going to City Market and Safeway,” she said. “They’ve been going all over the place.
“I have been all over town talking with various businesses and business owners, and they have really talked about how much the kids have been at lunches and buying dinners. It’s been an impact in that way.”
Craig will have less than a week of quiet before another large event brings a swarm of people of all ages to local businesses.
Competitors and their families in the 2010 High School State Rodeo Finals will begin arriving June 16.
Dave Fleming, who was the 2009 MCHS rodeo coach, helped bring the state rodeo to Craig.
“There were two reasons,” he said. “One, is that to the best of my knowledge, the rodeo finals have not been held on the Western Slope for at
least 30 years.”
And the second:
“A fair share of the competitors come from the Western Slope, but two-thirds of the rodeos are on the Eastern Slope,” he said.
Fleming said the estimate for the weekend is between $25,000 to $30,000 in net income for the community.
The first wave
Inside Moffat County High School on Thursday, the blue jackets buzzed.
FFA students attended workshops on agriculture, career opportunities and leadership development.
Thorn said hosting the conference in Craig would help open the members’ minds to a different type of community.
“We selected Moffat County because we haven’t been to this part of the state,” Thorn said. “A lot of our membership hasn’t been out here in a while. It gives them a chance to see a different kind of agriculture, to see the natural resources and an impact that is new to them.”
He said more than 100 students took a tour of Tri-State Generation & Transmission’s Craig Station.
“They just really got a good view of how everything works,” he said. “It’s widened their horizons. There are 200 careers in agriculture that are not farming. It gives them a desire to learn how broad agriculture really is.”
Thorn said much of the funds were spent on lodging, however restaurants, shops and even auto mechanics benefited from the convention.
“We had a couple busses break down on the way in,” he said.
Christina Currie, Craig Chamber of Commerce executive director, said hotels were near capacity during the convention, and one tourist group had to be sent to Steamboat Springs for the nearest available hotel rooms.
“It’s fantastic, given that the economy’s kind of tough for us right now and hotels are seeing 45 percent occupancy,” Currie said. “This was really a boom for them.”
Members of the Hotchkiss FFA chapter, a small mining town east of Delta, said their town was boring in comparison to Craig.
“We’re from a coal mining town, but it’s very different,” student Levi McKee said.
McKee said his favorite part of the week was playing in the Hampton Inn pool.
His classmate, Kyle Tallent, said Craig was a great place for the convention because there was space for the 1,500 students.
“Last year it was so congested,” he said of the 2009 State FFA Convention in Greeley.
But, he said he noticed stores in Craig don’t stay open very late.
Hill said the influx of young people in Craig for both the FFA convention and the rodeo is more than just dollars in the local economy.
“This all leads into this same discussion,” she said. “Who are we and what do we want to be and how do we want to have a voice in our future? How do we take those people that come here for that and jumpstart the next idea for them to come back?”
She said she gave a speech at the closing ceremony for the FFA convention in which she planted ideas for the students to plan their next trip or vacation in Moffat County.
“It’s having a voice in that, and thanking the people and inviting them back,” she said.
A whole new rodeo
When the high school finals rodeo arrives next week, it will represent a number of firsts for not only Craig, but for Colorado.
It will be not only Craig’s first state finals rodeo, but the first to be hosted on the Western Slope that Bruce McAdow, Colorado High School State Rodeo Association president, has seen.
“As far back as we can remember, it’s never been on the Western Slope,” he said.
Craig will be a new location for a large number of young cowboys and cowgirls, Fleming said.
“A lot of the kids from the Eastern Slope have never been to Craig, even for the fall rodeo,” he said. “Our facilities are nice, and we have a good Western heritage, and I think it will bring in some kids who wouldn’t typically come here.”
For the last two years, the state finals were in Lamar, and before that, Golden.
Craig, like Lamar and Golden in recent years, can expect to see the financial benefits of more than 110 competitors and their families, as well as spectators, McAdow said. And, that benefit won’t be fleeting — the finals are slated to return to Moffat County next year.
“When you look at fuel, groceries, restaurants and the other activities around, there will be a big benefit,” he said.
Because of that boost to the local economy, towns can be reluctant to give up the big show, McAdow said.
“People in Lamar were not happy when we moved it,” he said. “But, one of our goals is to expose (the finals) to more people throughout the state.
“We want to bring it to places like Craig, and try and move around.”
Currie said that while the rodeo won’t boost hotel revenue, it will benefit the area in different ways.
“There’s a difference between rodeo and FFA,” she said. “Rodeo people tend to bring their accommodations with them. So I expect local hoteliers will see minimal impact.
“But, it will still bring tourist dollars, which is just as valuable.”
Currie said the food and beverage industry will benefit greatly from the presence of the rodeo finals, and many rodeo participants have made structured plans for their days off to enjoy recreational activities.
“We’re already seeing they’ve got plans on their off-days to go to (Craig) City Park, bowling and to the city pool,” Currie said. “They’re really trying to take advantage of ‘OK, what else is there to do here?’ And that helps the economy tremendously.
“We’re thrilled to have them here and hope that they give a lift to the local economy.”
Trying to expand business
Darcy Trask, director of the Craig/Moffat Economic Development Partnership, said the ability to host events like the FFA convention and rodeo finals speaks volumes about the community.
“We’re grateful for all the effort that community members and leaders have put into these events,” she said. “It’s a great benefit to our small businesses, retail outlets, gas stations, restaurants, and hotels.”
One of EDP’s goals is to not only present Moffat County in a positive way, but to also try and entice prospective business into the region, Trask said.
“From an economic development standpoint, one of our main goals is to try and attract individuals to relocate to our community,” she said. “Our hope is that a handful will bring their business here.”
Trask said the percentage of potential individuals who would pick Moffat County is low, so having great numbers means more are likely to pick Craig.
“There is a low conversion rate,” she said. “With greater numbers, we have a better chance of having a few come back.”