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Millard explains chambers decision to end BBQ festival

Editor’s note: Following is a transcript of the comments made Wednesday morning by Andy Millard, president of the Carolina Foothills Chamber of Commerce, regarding the chambers decision not to hold the annual Blue Ridge Barbecue Festival anymore.

Our purpose today is to announce that the Carolina Foothills Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors voted unanimously yesterday not to hold the Blue Ridge Barbecue Festival in 2010. Furthermore, while we do not rule out the possibility of reviving it at some point in the future, there are no plans to do so. In short, we are getting out of the festival business.

We are taking this action for three main reasons:

Reason number 1

The festival is no longer an effective vehicle for raising the funds needed by the chamber of commerce and the chamber foundation.

The festival was inaugurated in 1994 by the then-Tryon Chamber of Commerce. It was the brainchild of Jim Tabb and Charlie Neff, and its purpose was to raise money for the fledgling organization. The first event was modest by comparison to what we have seen in the last few years, but it was a very successful fundraiser.

While it has continued to make money in recent years, the festivals profit, both in terms of profit margin and actual dollars, has trended downward to a point where it is no longer commensurate with the time and resources it consumes.

The 2009 festival was a good example of this phenomenon. As always, Dale and the festival steering committee did an outstanding job of putting on a first-class event while managing the budget in a&bsp; responsible way. The weather was good and attendance was up. By all measures, we had another successful event. But when all expenses had been paid, our net profit was just shy of $12,000.

Reason number 2

The festival has grown to the point where it now engenders a level of financial and legal risk that the chamber is no longer willing to take.

On the financial side, consider that from 2005 through 2009, the average annual cost of putting on the event was $292,000. We had to make those costs back before we made our first dime of profit. Two rainy days could have been devastating.

Thats exactly what happened in 1995, the festivals second year. That event took place in monsoon-like conditions, and visitors stayed away in droves. The chamber lost a lot of money, and it took us several years to erase the deficit.

From a liability standpoint, consider the combination of factors that converge at the Blue Ridge Barbecue Festival: food, golf carts, high volumes of electricity, large crowds of people, lots of cash changing hands, and potentially hot or stormy weather. The possibility of someone getting hurt has increased in proportion to the festival itself.

Reason number 3

The festival consumes time, energies and resources that could be redeployed elsewhere.

The Blue Ridge Barbecue Festival requires the year round combined efforts of about 20 gifted and selfless individuals who serve on the steering committee. The event itself requires over 700 volunteers. One member of the chambers paid staff must devote the vast majority of her time to the various tasks involved in producing the festival. We have already outlined the financial commitment involved.

Because of the need to devote ever-increasing resources to the festival over the last 16 years, the chambers core mission of supporting and promoting member businesses has been diluted. By getting out of the festival business, the chamber will be able to concentrate more fully on that core mission.

In the last few years, the chamber has stepped up its commitment to supporting member businesses through several important initiatives. In 2009, the Polk County and Landrum chambers merged to form the current 400-member Carolina Foothills Chamber of Commerce. The Save Local/Buy Local/Think Foothills First campaign, Foothills Leadership Initiative (FLI), Business-to-Business discount card, and our upcoming Business Education series are just a few of the projects that advance our mission and deserve a share of attention and resources.

We considered the possibility of continuing with a scaled-down version of the festival, but we ended up rejecting the idea. We feel that visitors have built an expectation of their festival experience, and anything less would be a disappointment. We also couldnt see a way to improve our profit picture with a reduced event. In addition, we feel we can get more excited about new ideas and events than about slashing the barbecue.

And what are those new ideas? We still have substantial fundraising needs, and we believe we can be more effective with several lower-profile, lower-risk projects than with a single high-risk event.

To complement established chamber events such as the annual Shuckin and Shaggin dinner/dance and the Otho Gibbs Memorial Golf Tournament, we plan to begin an annual five-mile running event, The Warrior Drive Five, on May 22 of this year. We plan to build on the success of last years gala dinner and the Rubber Duckie Race on the Pacolet River. We are also considering the possibility of a small one-day festival designed to showcase chamber members and appeal to local people. These are but a few of the ideas we have discussed. More information will be made available as the committee firms up its plans.

The experience, expertise and energy of our wonderful volunteers will not be lost. Dale Musselwhite, the tireless and able chairman of the barbecue festival, has agreed to serve as chairman of a new committee that will coordinate and manage all of our fundraising efforts. It is our fervent hope that many of the members of the barbecue committee will want to serve with Dale in this new and exciting effort.

Our executive director, Janet Sciacca, will be able to focus her energies to the chambers many projects and initiatives. Tabatha Cantrell, our event coordinator, will work with Dale and his committee to stage the various events and fundraising activities.

Over the years, the festival has provided funds for the Chamber of Commerce Foundation, which has made grants totaling over $175,000 to local community non-profits. Our goal is to continue funding the foundation as we move forward.

We recognize the importance of the festival to our local area. It has become a fixture on the annual calendar. It has been a showcase for our wonderful community and has been widely recognized as one of the top barbecue festivals in the nation. It has brought thousands of visitors to our area, helping to put the Carolina Foothills area on the map. It has provided an outlet for many local volunteers and has been a source of civic pride not to mention the fact that it was loads of fun. But those facts were not reason enough to keep it going. We are a business organization, and we have made a business decision.

We are profoundly grateful for the hundreds of individuals who have contributed to the festivals success over the years. We are also grateful to our local residents, governmental entities, and law enforcement. The festivals success has put us in position to take this next step forward for the chamber and the region.

The Carolina Foothills Chamber of Commerce looks forward to an even brighter future of cooperation and growth for the business community of Tryon, Landrum, Columbus and Saluda.