Why is it important for Detroit Lakes to host WE Fest?
It's a question everyone reading this should be asking themselves.
And if we don't know now, DL and Becker County will surely start to find out next year.
With the cancellation of the 2020 WE Fest by its new owners, we implore our community leaders — city, county, economic and entertainment — to truly measure the value the festival has for this region, and be able and willing to "make the case" for the legendary country event's future in the lakes area.
Here is the background. Before this year's festival, Tribune reporter Marie Johnson reached out to many local officials to get a sense of what the festival means for the local economy and culture.
"Multiple economic development and tourism industry professionals from the city, county and state were interviewed for this story, and none could produce any hard numbers about the festival's impact," she wrote.
Ryan Pesch, who works in community economic development for the University of Minnesota’s Regional Extension office in Moorhead, said, "No study has ever been done (on WE Fest’s economic impact), that I know of."
A few days later, on Aug. 6, Townsquare Media announced it was selling off its events arm — include WE Fest — to Live Nation.
Then, on Nov. 4, Brian O'Connell of Live Nation told Tribune reporter Vicki Gerdes that the company wants to take a year off from WE Fest to better plan for 2021 — and that "(a)ll of the rumors that are flying around that we're going to move the festival and all that kind of stuff are not true."
So WE Fest is in a holding pattern for a year, with only a promise that it returns to Soo Pass Ranch in 2021.
Meanwhile, an important chunk of economic driver will not be there next summer.
Again, no one knows how big of a chunk.
It is time for Detroit Lakes and Becker County to stop being passive when it comes to being home to one of the most famous country music festivals in the country. WE Fest must be treated as the important event that we all believe it to be.
That starts with taking a real assessment of WE Fest's impact.
“There’s really no barometer,” Detroit Lakes Mayor Matt Brenk said in the August story. “But I do know that we wouldn’t want to lose it, because I know that it helps the town.”
There is no barometer, but there are ways to study an event's worth to a community. Every shop owner or bookkeeper or farmer in town knows terms like "profit and loss" and "return on investment." It is managing expenses to revenue, essentially, to determine if something is really "worth it."
Cities do this all the time: It was the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee, for instance, that made the winning bid for Super Bowl LII in 2018. That committee — comprised of politicians (Gov. Mark Dayton), financial executives, marketing experts and more — worked to make a pitch that earned Minneapolis the rare honor of hosting the biggest event in sports.
On the committee's website, they pose the question: "Why is it important for Minnesota to host a Super Bowl?"
In detail, the committee explains:
- "Economists expect more than $400 million in new spending right here ... likely foretelling an impressive boon for job growth."
- "Each visitor alone is expected to spend an average of $625 per day, about six times what a typical Minnesota visitor spends!"
- "This incredible exposure allows us to tell the story of our successful business climate: why so many successful companies, including 18 Fortune 500 companies, are located here."
- "The opportunity to demonstrate all Minnesota has to offer will likely lead to a significant growth in tourism and convention business for years to come. Previous host cities such as Indianapolis have seen a 20% increase in conference business in the years immediately following the Super Bowl."
For our festival, let us take the time to partner with someone willing to do some of the number-crunching: Maybe it is the U of M or North Dakota State. It could be the kind of real-world work that would have appeal as a collegiate project.
Let's find out what benefits WE Fest brings (can we make the case for more state money for roads because of the unique use of WE Fest?), and what kind of a loss of service, population and culture it would mean if it goes away.
Without this kind of information — and a campaign of awareness to bring it home to Live Nation and to residents — we will be stuck for an answer when someone asks, "Why is it important for Detroit Lakes to host WE Fest?"
If that question can't be answered, we have already lost.