Janesville Hopes AirFEST Provides Economic Boost


Solid summer tourism can help a community's economy take off and one Janesville event looks to do just that.

This year's Southern Wisconsin AirFEST may have a resonating impact on Janesville.

Wednesday morning, a member of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds demonstration team arrived in Janesville in advance of this summer's air show.

For many area businesses, the Memorial Day comes as quickly as the Thunderbirds fly by.

"Events like this have a tremendous impact on the economy through the spending of the people that come here for the day," said Christine Rebout, executive director of the Janesville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

In a time where many festivals have struggled, attendance at the ABC Supply Southern Wisconsin AirFEST continues to grow.

"Last year we had about 45,000,” said the air show's founder and director Tom Morgan. “We expect to have 50,000-60,000 this year.”

With each visitor comes money. A Janesville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau survey at the 2009 event showed visitors traveled from throughout the Midwest, spending at hotels, restaurants, gas stations and other local businesses.

"If we use a figure of just $50 per person per day and get an attendance of, lets say, 50,000 people, we could look at over $2.7 million in economic impact from this event alone," said Rebout.

What could make this summer's AirFEST promising is that the Thunderbirds will share the headline and the skies with the Canadian Forces' Snowbirds, who last performed in Janesville in 2008.

"It's a great opportunity for us to team up with our partners to the north,” said USAF Thunderbirds advance pilot Major Tony "Split" Mulhare. “We have a great relationship with the snowbird team. We fly very different aircraft and that drives some large differences in the show.”

"We're very fortunate to get two headliners this year, and we're the only show in North America to host two jet teams," said Morgan.

Officials are hoping AirFEST can help summer tourism take off in a way no other Rock County event ever could.

"We might have a small meeting or conference that comes in and brings 200 or 300 people, but to get 50,000 people in one weekend is a big event for us," said Rebout.

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