The yearly event is an economic engine for area businesses
By Alex Paul
SWEET HOME - The 13th Oregon Jamboree in Sweet Home generated a record $200,000-plus in profit and several times that amount in terms of its economic impact on Linn County businesses, according to event director Peter LaPonte.
"We don't have the final figures yet, but we will easily top the previous record of just under $200,000, which came in 2003," said LaPonte, who begins his eighth year at the helm of the growing country music festival. More than 400 volunteers from throughout Linn County help make the festival a financial success, he said.
The Jamboree was founded by the late Marge Geil from the Sweet Home Economic Development Group to generate money for economic diversification projects after the downturn of the timber industry in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In addition to funding its own activities, SHEDG donates 10 percent of the Jamboree's yearly profits to the Sweet Home Community Foundation. That group awards grants to communitywide projects.
The economic ripple created by the Jamboree, which has an annual budget approaching $1 million, is significant, LaPonte said. Five years ago, when attendance was in the 5,000 to 6,000 person-per-day range, a study showed visitors, vendors, locals and the festival budget generated some $1.2 million for the local economy. The number rose to $1.8 million when economic multipliers were considered.
"Now, we're seeing 9,000 to 10,000 people per day, so the economic impact has to be even greater," LaPonte said. "We know that virtually every motel room and camping spot in the area, including Sweet Home, Lebanon and Albany, is booked during the Jamboree."
Income for food and merchandise vendors, about 18 per year, can be as much as $18,000 during the three-day event. "It really depends on what they have to offer and the weather. This year it was really hot, and vendors who sold ice cream did great."
The Sweet Home School District also benefits greatly from the Jamboree, LaPonte said.
Kevin Strong, District 55's finance director, said school clubs and athletic teams raised $16,221 by providing services at this year's event. Through SHEDG, the Jamboree donated another $34,500 to install a new underground sprinkler system on the athletic field south of the high school.
Strong said money raised by the students is especially important since it doesn't come out of the school district's general fund budget and can be used to pay for special programs or to supplement others. "The sprinkler project allows us to conserve water and to better utilize our maintenance staff since we no longer have to spend a great deal of time moving irrigation pipes," Strong said.
LaPonte said the event is so popular that 1,000 VIP seats have already been sold for the 2006 festival, even though entertainment bookings are just starting. Gretchen Wilson is the first major entertainer to sign a contract for next year, LaPonte said.
Although the bulk of the Jamboree's patrons come from Linn, Lane, Benton, Marion, Coos, Douglas and Deschutes counties, the festival draws country music fans from far and wide. Just under 10 percent come from Washington state.
"We lost money the first year I was here, but we've made money every year since 1999. I think the board of directors that hired me would be blown away by what we're doing now. I know I'm blown away," LaPonte said. "We've grown into one of the more lucrative festivals in the state."
Included on a long list of activities the Jamboree funds through SHEDG is the salary for Karen Owen, the community's economic development coordinator. She has spent time in recent weeks talking with Sweet Home merchants about the Jamboree's affect on their business.
"It's all over the place," Owen said. "It really depends on the type of business involved. This year it was very hot, and some businesses - for example, those that sell pizza - didn't do as well as in other years."
Owen said local grocery stores and restaurants always do well. One restaurant stayed open extra hours to accommodate Jamboree patrons, and the reward was increased business. A downtown shop that specializes in sewing materials also reported more activity this year.
Sharon Martin-Mogg, group sales coordinator with the Albany Visitors Association, said local hotels and motels reported 75 to 100 percent occupancy during the Jamboree weekend.
"Attendees from the north and west also tend to stop in Albany to buy gas, eat at restaurants and even buy camping gear," Martin-Mogg said. "Albany merchants definitely feel a positive effect from the Jamboree."
Martin-Mogg said the local transient room tax was up 7 percent in July 2005 over July 2004. This year's Jamboree was held entirely in July, instead of the usual August dates.
The Jamboree may have reached capacity for its location on school and city property behind Sweet Home High School, LaPonte said. The SHEDG board has committed to research the possibility of developing an amphitheater on the former Willamette Industries mill site, now in a trust managed by developer Dan Desler. The project would include a permanent stage and other facilities as well as parking for passenger vehicles and RVs.
The goal, LaPonte said, would be to decrease the costs associated with renting equipment needed to put on the show each year, including the stage, sound system, etc. Such a facility would also provide an opportunity for the community to host other events on a smaller scale throughout the year, LaPonte said.
Reporter Alex Paul can be reached by calling 812-6076 or by e-mailing email@example.com.