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Study: UP200 races have huge economic benefits

Musher Joshua McNeal’s lead dogs are pictured in downtown Marquette bursting with energy moments before the start of their race during this year’s U.P. 200. (Journal file photo)

MARQUETTE — The UP200, Midnight Run and Jack Pine 30 sled dog races attract many tourists to the Marquette area in the middle of winter — not always an easy feat.

Although people flock to the region to watch the dogs run the races, they also patronize area businesses before, during and even after the events, and a recently completed study is proof.

In collaboration with the NMU Chapter of the American Marketing Association, Travel Marquette and the Lake Superior Community Partnership, the Upper Peninsula Sled Dog Association developed an economic survey that was completed by 204 people attending this year’s races in February.

Using that data along with standard economic metrics, the LSCP prepared an economic impact assessment based on the assumption that 2,500 people attend these events from outside the area.

“This is a conservative estimate given that well over 5,000 people participate annually and that our mushers and many of our 900-plus volunteers come from outside the local area,” said Darlene Walch, president of the UPSDA.

Based on this analysis, she said the economic impact of the long weekend encompassing the races is significant: $1,985,680.80.

This report is consistent with the previous LSCP study in December 2014, Walch said.

“It has positive benefits for the area,” Walch said of the races, stressing that not just downtown Marquette sees an economic boost.

Walch said people stay in the area from Wednesday to Monday, and they include volunteers spending money on gas as they travel across the U.P. from downstate. They also stay in hotels and motels.

Walch believes the economic influx continues well after the events, too.

“Many people just come to watch the races, and they like Marquette, and they come back at a different time of year as well,” she said.

According to the LSCP study, impacts of the races were assessed using estimates for Marquette County based on survey and expenditure information provided by the UPSDA.

General assumptions include that all expenditures, reported by the survey and the UPSDA, contribute 100% to Marquette County. The mean of categorized expenses was taken based on the 204 survey respondents. Results were based off the assumption that 2,500 people outside the area attended the events and spent the same amount of money as those surveyed.

Mary Myers, director of business development with the LSCP, said in an email that the UP200 is not only important to the local economy, but the U.P. as well.

“That weekend brings in over 5,000 people from all over who are spending money at local restaurants, stores and hotels,” Myers said. “This event has also turned into a legislative gathering, bringing legislators, state department directors and staff to the area, giving us the opportunity to advocate for the U.P. and show them what we have to offer.”

The 2021 races are tentatively scheduled for Feb. 11-15.

However, whether they come off depends on how the COVID-19 pandemic progresses.

Walch said the UPSDA will make modifications regarding things like face masks and social distancing — if the current scenario continues.

She acknowledged the rural races can be easily adapted to allow social distancing, but the UP200 and Midnight Run have crowded starts in downtown Marquette.

“It’s not something that we can throw together at the last minute or cancel at the last minute,” said Walch, who hopes a decision will be made no later than November.

Should the 2021 events be canceled, she noted the UPSDA will spend the year regrouping and getting ready for 2022.

“We wouldn’t just throw up our hands and disappear,” Walch said.

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