BU center assesses fair’s economic impact

What comes to mind when someone mentions “Bloomsburg?” If it isn’t the university, it must be the fair that gives the town an identity, says David “Otto” Kurecian, executive director of the Columbia-Montour Visitor’s Bureau. While the Visitor’s Bureau works on many events throughout the year to bring tourists to the region, the fair is easily the largest.

“You could mention Columbia or Montour County, and it would be unrecognizable,” says Kurecian. “Say ‘Bloomsburg’ and a person will automatically think ‘Oh, from the fair.’ ”

To gain insights into the fair, Bloomsburg University’s Center for Community Research and Consulting is conducting an economic impact assessment during four days of this year’s 158th edition. The center, comprising university faculty and students, works to improve surrounding areas and organizations through data collection and analysis. The economic impact assessment will look at spending trends and overall enjoyment at the Bloomsburg Fair. The ultimate goal is to gather data that can be used to bring more tourists to the area.

“We want to market ourselves as a larger destination,” says Heather Feldhaus, a co-director of the center. “We want to know what will get people here and what will keep them here.”

Sue Dauria, anthropology professor, has conducted similar research on the fair for nearly a decade. But where Dauria’s surveys asked “How much?” the surveys from the Center for Community Research and Consulting will also ask “On what?” and “By whom?” They will separate participants by race/ethnicity, income and employment levels and spending categories. Finding out how they heard of the fair will also be an important focus in the surveys.

“We will do what Sue Dauria and her students did, but bigger,” says Feldhaus.

In the past, the center has been part of events including the Covered Bridge Arts and Crafts Festival at Knoebels Amusement Resort and Danville’s Spring Fling. At both events, student volunteers studying sociology, psychology, anthropology and economics learned research methods and sampling techniques as they surveyed more than 300 attendees.

This year at the fair, Feldhaus says she and the team will move up to the big leagues. Just by sheer numbers, the Bloomsburg Fair will prove to be an experience like no other. The students expect to survey more than 1,000 participants – a number greater than those of the Spring Fling and the Knoebels craft festival combined. Numbers, however, will not be the only concern.

Surveys must be customized to collect the best data on the days when groups such as senior citizens, high school students and veterans are admitted free and when well-known grandstand performers draw crowds from a wider geographic area.

The volume of music and crowd noises at some areas of the fairgrounds may make interviews more difficult to conduct. And inclement weather could knock out a day’s worth of data if that day’s audience is lost.

The biggest challenge of the study won’t come until after the fair has ended and the data collection phase is over. Analyzing the data is a grueling process, Feldhaus says.

To overcome these challenges, BU seniors Mike Otto and Brandon Harmon spent their summer working with Feldhaus and the rest of the center’s faculty. Both Otto and Harmon received Undergraduate Research, Scholarship and Creative Activity (URSCA) grants for their work with the center in “Developing a Regional Economic Impact Plan.” The award provides summer stipend support to students participating in summer research, scholarship or creative activities.

Harmon says the Danville Spring Fling acted as a dry run of sorts to get them ready for the Bloomsburg Fair. “We knew going in that it would be like a stepping stone,” he adds.

The center is estimated to have between 65 to 100 student volunteers. All volunteers will be working in pairs in six designated areas of the fair. Since it would be impossible to cover every day of the fair, Otto and Harmon worked with the center to choose four days to acquire data from varying audiences.

The project also will give Harmon and Otto professional experience. A business economics major, Harmon is doing work directly related to his field; Otto, a sociology major who hopes to work in research marketing, is learning sampling and research strategies and putting them to use in ways he wouldn’t have learned in the classroom alone.

Even the student volunteers who just sign up have a lot to gain from the experience. One of the more timid volunteers told Feldhaus that the only reason she signed up Covered Bridge Arts and Crafts Festival at Knoebels was to practice going up to people and talking to them. When they started approaching her, happily answering questions simply because she was a BU student, the day took on a whole new light. This year, the fair is likely to do the same.

–By Sean Williams ’15

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