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Special events have become vital part of Duluth's economy

Twenty-four years ago our city was changed. A small road race put on by a few local runners marked a trend toward "Destination Duluth." Now, as Grandma's Marathon prepares to celebrate its 25th year, we remember how it paved the way for over 480 ...

Twenty-four years ago our city was changed. A small road race put on by a few local runners marked a trend toward "Destination Duluth." Now, as Grandma's Marathon prepares to celebrate its 25th year, we remember how it paved the way for over 480 special events held in our community today including the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon, the Bayfront Blues Festival and the North Shore Inline Marathon.
This change marked a move from the declining industry and economy in Duluth to a strong tourism base. "When industrial companies began to dwindle in the Twin Ports area, tourism picked up the tab," said Chuck Carlberg, executive director of the North Shore Inline Marathon. "Without the millions of visitors that pour into our city year after year for special events, our businesses would not flourish like they do. Tourism is the lifeblood of our community."
Research has shown that lifeblood is exactly what tourism is. According to the Twin Ports Tourism Alliance, tourism is the fourth largest industry in the region, generating a $400 million total economic impact each year in the Twin Ports. The monies brought in from special events contribute greatly to this figure. For example, Grandma's Marathon currently brings in $7.5 million direct dollars annually to the Twin Ports and has contributed more than $70 million to the economy since it was first run in 1977. In addition, large events such as The Bayfront Blues Festival, the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon and the North Shore Inline Marathon combined bring in nearly $11 million each year.
Assisting in the financial stability of the Twin Ports region isn't the only effect special events have on the area. The community welcomes and works hard to accommodate events, which in turn attract millions of visitors from all over the world. "Special events have such a positive impact on Duluth," says John Stenz co-chair of the Twin Ports Tourism Alliance. "Not only do they bring in millions of dollars annually to the local economy, but they also increase the visibility and popularity of our city."
This is easy to see when looking at the demographics from the largest annual events in Duluth. People from all 50 states and 35 different countries registered to participate in this year's Grandma's Marathon. Similarly, in 1999 the North Shore Inline Marathon attracted people from 37 states and 10 countries.
"I believe that the support and enthusiasm that our community shows for Grandma's Marathon weekend plays a huge role in the fact that our events continue to grow year after year," says Race Director Scott Keenan. "People go home after the special events that are hosted here and recommend Duluth to others."
Stenz says, "Tourists embrace the Duluth community. It's an ideal setting for people to come to relax, sightsee and take part in the many festivities. The people of Duluth embrace tourists and special events because they add to the uniqueness and spirit of the city."
Brian Daugherty, co-chair of the Twin Ports Tourism Alliance, said, "The foundation of Duluth as a destination has been strengthened by the way we've capitalized and rebuilt our approach to the lake. Special events are the spikes in the very strong growing industry of tourism in the Twin Ports region."
These "spikes" -- large events like Grandma's Marathon -- have been an inspiration for a dramatic number of smaller special events in our community. A visitor can come to Duluth on any given weekend and find no less than three special events at any time of the year. Incredible.
While large events are often the cornerstone by which we measure our event success, it's the 480 other annual events that hold the year together. Four-hundred-eighty things to attend each year -- that's unprecedented in any other city of this size.
Grandma's Marathon truly changed the outlook for events in Duluth, and it was a dramatic change for the better.

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