Free Press Summer Fest

Inside That $14 Million Summer Fest Economic Study

Earlier this month, the producers of Free Press Summer Fest released the results of an economic impact analysis they had commissioned from the University of Houston about the 2012 festival, which took place this past June 2 and 3 in Eleanor Tinsley Park. The figure they arrived at is certainly impressive: According to the study, Summer Fest juiced the coffers of local merchants and other businesses by an estimated $14 million.


Complete Free Press Summer Fest 2012 Coverage

But what does that mean? It's easy to throw out a number like $14 million, but figures like that don't really mean much to most laymen unless there's some kind of context. It sure sounds like a lot, but is it really?

Last week Rocks Off spoke with one of the men who co-authored the study, University of Houston economics professor Steven G. Craig, who worked with Evert Crawford, Director of the Institute for Regional Forecasting at the Hobby Center for Public Policy. What he found most impressive, he says, was not the figure itself so much as how much money generated by Summer Fest came from out-of-town visitors.

"What [the study] tries to get at is that some activities in a city bring new resources into our area," Craig explains. "So with the example of this festival, the new resources are the visitors that came to town to go to this festival from out of town - so people from Austin, and even as far as New Orleans, like that came here."

Comparing data provided by Summer Fest with visitor-expenditure numbers from the Greater Houston Partnership, the two determined that more than 25 percent of people who attended the festival came from out of town. (Total attendance is listed at 81,000 people.)

They also allowed what Craig calls an "import substitution," which tries to account for people living in Houston who went to Summer Fest instead of going out of town for the weekend.

"That's slightly problematic, I guess, but to be up front we've gotta be able to say that we did that," Craig says.

That $14 million is the estimated amount of total output added to the local economy. Craig and Crawford also measured the amount of employment (FPSF added 104 full-time equivalent jobs), labor income ($5.4 million) and value-added income ($8.2 million). The different numbers represent, says Craig, "in some sense, three different views of the same thing."

The study is a composite of how Summer Fest affected a number of different local industries -- enough to make a Top 10 list, but interestingly, that Top 10 only accounted for a little more than half of the $14 million total output (about $7.5 million). Most of them were about what you'd expect: Food and drink providers, facilities support (waste management, equipment rentals) and entertainment promoters, but also real estate (hotels, rented-out dwellings) retail stores, and medical services.

Our favorite was "Oil and Gas Extraction," which the study says added about as much output as entertainment promoters, or approximately $750,000. Why?

"I guess what I'll say is that Houston is an oil town," Craig chuckles. "I saw that too, and I don't think they're drilling any oil wells for the guys who bought gas to drive back to Dallas."