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September 2019
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On JeepFest, county airport and City of Jasper civil suit

    The three stories on the front of this newspaper are mostly unrelated – a wildly successful Jeep event, a stalled airport project and the city paying out a big settlement for erosion at a piece of property that once was prime for commercial development.
    But there is an overriding theme there with the one thing that worked and two that didn’t (at least not yet): Events/festival/tourism can produce a lot of economic bang without the long-term infrastructure commitments required for commercial development.
    JeepFest showed the impact of big events – the town was packed with shoppers and dinners,  JeepFest organizers sold out of t-shirts and raised a heck of a lot of money to put back into the community. And it should be noted, everyone had a good time then went home.
    It’s the last phrase that we want to direct your attention to. Unlike the city of Jasper’s problem, no one involved in JeepFest is going to get sued because of erosion issues on steep slopes that may pop up years from now. City crews won’t ever be called in to try and stave off development problems on JeepFest trails.
    Of course, the long-range benefits of a thriving aviation business park in terms of permanent jobs, property taxes and regular monthly sales tax would dwarf even the largest festival. But for the short-term, we’d encourage the commissioners, mayors and economic development folks of this county to roll with what’s working, and for now that’s tourist-style events.
    This newspaper has long editorialized that Pickens County leaders need to put more emphasis on attracting events and regular attractions to promote economic development. We have used the example previously of a small town in Kansas that created a world-class soccer complex and now keeps their hotels booked solid year-round and restaurants hopping with groups coming to the camps, clinics and tournaments.
    With recreation sports, a state-tournament in most any sport will fill a town. Developing attractions, facilities and events that give people something to do will bridge the shortcomings we have with our lack of state parks, public lands, and accessible rivers and lakes.
    We never expected it would be our sheriff that showed so well what we can do in this community with our available resources. But, it was Sheriff Donnie Craig who started three years ago with a small Jeep ride that expanded into something wildly popular this year and has the potential to keep on growing.
    One person attending JeepFest said the town needs more things like this. “Heck, I’d even support a hempfest if it would pack the town with people and energy like this,” the enthused spectator said.
    We might not go as far as hemp, but the point is well-taken -- thinking outside the box is needed with events and festivals.
     Pickens County, unfortunately, doesn’t have an ace-in-the-hole in natural attractions to make coming up with future events easy. There is no public lake, mountain area or accessible river, to start with. But you can be sure the Kansas town didn’t have much except for flat space, which as they saw it made a great spot for soccer.
    The challenge lies in determining what else would be successful in terms of festival/events. Jeeps seem obvious in hindsight, but it was Craig’s action (and a whole of lot of volunteer help) that brought it about.     As the old saying goes, “Vision isn’t seeing what doesn’t exist. It’s seeing what is there but unseen by others.” And our sheriff surely demonstrated he has this with JeepFest.
    In the longrun, we hope that the airport will live up to its potential and we are hopeful that one day we will see a new wave of commercial growth here.
    But, for the present, let’s encourage our commissioners, mayors and economic development people to think off-the-main-road.