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GOSHEN -- Four Goshen College students are trying to get to the bottom of the Elkhart County 4-H Fairgrounds' bottom line.
They've been tasked with finding the answer to this question: What is the economic impact of the fairgrounds?
"The question that the fairground staff wanted answers for was 'What impact does the fairgrounds have on Elkhart County?'" said Goshen College business department chair Michelle Horning, who is supervising four students hired to conduct research on the topic.
Junior Brett Bridges, freshman Matt Nafziger and seniors Jennifer Cree and John Tamrat are conducting a study by surveying people who visit the fairgrounds for the 10-day county fair and for RV rallies throughout the summer. While their original focus was on the economic impact, they're also looking into its social impact, particularly from the 4-H program for youth.
Gale Gerber, former fair board president, said he considers the project more of a "values statement" than an "economic impact study." He wants to find out what the fairgrounds mean to the community.
"What we're trying to do is, economically, is it really a good thing for our community? Which we all know that it is," Gerber said. "We just want to be able to show people how important the fairgrounds really is."
The research began this summer and will likely go on through the end of the fall semester. So far, students have gathered data from RV rally coordinators, asking where the attendees come from, what they do while they're here and how much money they spend. Tamrat said some of the coordinators already track these data for their own use.
The students also survey the people who come to the rallies individually to ask them how they spend their money when they're in Elkhart County. Besides the obvious -- restaurants and tourism-related shopping -- the students have found that these visitors sometimes spend money locally on RV repairs, and even on veterinary and other pet-related expenses for the pets they travel with.
Next week, their busy period begins. The students will frequently be at the fair, surveying fairgoers about their spending habits. Horning said they're not necessarily looking to find out how much money they spend inside the fair, since there are other ways to determine that. They're looking for information about whether people stop at a restaurant afterward or stay at a hotel, and whether certain events draw more people to the fair.
Meanwhile, two of the students will be talking to 4-H volunteers and children to gauge the social impact of that program, Horning said. That section of the report will probably be more anecdotal and won't produce many hard numbers, she said.
Matt McBride, owner of Tony's Famous Grill, 103 N. Fifth St., Goshen, said fair week doesn't necessarily bring more customers, but it doesn't keep them away, either.
"It's a little here, little there. That kind of thing," McBride said. "Sometimes it's a little busier. Sometimes it's a little slower. It doesn't seem to really help, doesn't seem to really hurt."
He estimated that if anything, last year's fair week slowed down business, probably because with the slow economy, people couldn't afford to both go to the fair and go to a restaurant.
But the RV rallies that the fairgrounds host during the summer do help business, he said. Since there aren't as many food and entertainment options at the rallies as at the fair, the campers tend to venture out to his restaurant.
"Those usually help us quite a bit," he said. "We usually get quite a few people from the RV rallies."
Gerber said fair organizers will likely use the information gathered in the student for marketing, as well as future decision making.
The students are getting paid for their work, but they said it's beneficial to their course of study, too.
"I think it was good to just do research that has actual, real-life impact outside of the classroom," said Tamrat, a business and public relations major.
ELKHART COUNTY FAIR
When: July 23-31
Where: Elkhart County 4-H Fairgrounds, 17746 County Road 34, Goshen
More information: Gates open at 8:30 a.m. on opening day. Admission is $8, and parking is free.