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Giddyup! Dixie National rides into the Capital City

It is that time of year again, and metro Jackson retailers, restaurateurs, hoteliers and groups that promote the area could not be happier. The 2008 Dixie National Rodeo and Livestock Show is back in town, and with it a substantial economic boost to the Capital City region.

Mike Brinkley Jr., director of the Mississippi State Fairgrounds Commission, says the year’s edition of the event will be the economic shot in the arm area businesses and leaders have come to expect, despite fears of recession.

“It’s a 27-day event, so people are not just coming in to town for the weekend,” he says. “Area businesses love it when the rodeo and livestock show comes in.”

No downturn

When asked if the concerns about the economy are affecting turnout, Brinkley says no. He says ticket sales for the rodeo, which runs February 7-13, are off approximately 1%-2%. However, attendance and interest in the livestock show, which began January 25, is actually up.

“People are being a little more selective about the events they are going to attend, but we’re happy with ticket sales so far,” Brinkley says.

Brinkley adds that the prize money offered is an attractive lure for contestants, and the food and music, which this year includes the likes of Little Big Town, Joe Nichols, Lonestar and Marty Stuart, are crowd pleasers, but stresses that the name “Dixie National” is a big draw by itself. The brand has tremendous appeal. Thus, he expects participation and attendance to be up, as well as the event’s economic impact.

And that impact is significant. Brinkley says the rodeo and livestock show’s economic impact each year is $25 million to $28 million. He is expecting more than 150,000 contestants and their fans/families and spectators combined at the 2008 event.

Those numbers are very significant to those promoting Jackson as a place to visit. The Jackson Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) is one of them.

Linda D. Mann, vice president of marketing at the CVB, says, “The Dixie National is one of Jackson’s largest and most popular events, attracting nearly 76,000 attendees each year… It’s as much a part of Jackson’s culture as our State Fair, and we all look forward to helping promote and service the Dixie National each year. Great rodeo action, a fun festival and the largest livestock show east of the Mississippi River make this an ideal winter event for families.”

Business friendly

Lisa Knight is one area businessperson singing the Dixie National Rodeo and Livestock Show’s praises. She is co-owner of Boots & More, located just across High Street from the Fairgrounds. Contestants, their families and attendees can simply walk across the street to shop.

But Boots & More does not just wait for shoppers to come in. It is one of the sponsors of the Dixie National event. (Other sponsors include the Beef Council, Southern Beverage Company Inc., Scott Tractor and Equipment Company and Lewis Trailer Sales, to name just a few.) Knight says the rodeo and livestock show has cash registers ringing constantly at the store, and keeping sufficient staff on hand is a pleasant challenge.

“They come in to buy anything western,” says Knight, who was running a register while conducting this interview. “It is crazy around here. We contact former employees, friends — even family members — to see if they can work. If they have free time and want to make some extra money, we need them.”

Area hotels are reporting a significant uptick in reservations during the livestock show and the week prior to the rodeo’s kick off. Brandi Harvey, executive sales assistant at the Marriott Jackson, says the hotel is pretty much booked up February 11-12, and hears that reservations in general are up for all the days the event is in town.

Pierre Jackson, guest service representative at Red Roof Inn-Coliseum, says this year is shaping up to be as good if not better than previous years.

“We are seeing more reservations this year than last year — definitely,” he says. “We are pretty much booked solid already, and the rodeo has not even started yet. We are very pleased with the number of reservations we are seeing this year.”

Duane O’Neill, president of the Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership, says he is hearing nothing but good things from his members. He calls the rodeo/livestock show “a shot in the arm” for local businesses, and adds that folks who come out and support the show “spend a lot of money.”

“They tend to come from all over,” O’Neill says. “It is a real positive because it showcases the area’s diversity. When you can talk about ballet on the one side, and talk about equestrian events on the other side, it just illustrates what all we offer here.”

In the past, the chamber has had an official presence at the rodeo and livestock show. It does not this year, but O’Neill says that does not mean that he and his folks will not support the event.

“You meet people over the years, form relationships,” he says. “I’ll be there.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at wally.northway@msbusiness.com.

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