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Feature Article - March 2008

The Main Event

Pulling It Off Without a Hitch

By Kelli Anderson


The Central Iowa Fair held annually in Marshalltown, Iowa, for the past 103 years is experiencing a comeback. In the past five years the fair has seen a significant climb in attendance with 2008 expected to be their biggest and most successful yet.

But it doesn't always take 103 years to turn heads or turn a profit. The Albuquerque International Balloon Festival in Albuquerque, N.M., the largest event of its kind in the world, boasts participation from more than 30 countries and attendance of over 1 million people during its weeklong celebration. A poster-child as a Festival How-To, it traces its humble beginnings to a shopping mall parking lot in 1972, a handful of balloon enthusiasts and a mayor who thought the city could lend a hand to do something more.

From the humble fair to the glitz of an international festival, communities around the country are implementing new and creative ways to fund special events to bring in the public and their dollars. When special events are done well, the result is a win-win for the local economy and the heightened sense of community shared by those who participate.

Status quo

For communities like Marshalltown, taking an existing event and improving it is a good place to start. Many communities already have events that celebrate their heritage or a story from history that only need some creative thinking to go from the ho-hum of the status quo to something that begins to grow and take on new life for the community.

However, other communities, like Albuquerque, may decide that they possess the potential for something new and unique. They are Exhibit A: proof that when given the proper nudge, events can balloon to unimaginable heights—or at least get a few substantial feet off the ground.

In either case, steering these ideas toward success takes concrete vision, planning and hard work, but the end result is worth it. Whether it's creating revenue to fund existing needs, generating economic growth for existing businesses or enhancing the sense of pride and ownership within the community, successfully run festivals and special events offer compelling reasons to take a new look at an old idea.