Teri Hammel recalls when the news came down in 2004 that the Farm Progress Show would become part of the Decatur, Ill., community every other year, starting in 2005. “We were very excited,” says the executive director of the Decatur Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We love being able to completely fill our hotels.”
She says the city was familiar with the show from past appearances across the state, and residents knew that the event would mean thousands of visitors descending on the region every other year.
“When they agreed to build this great facility, with its paved roads and all the amazing sponsors that help make it happen, it was a no-brainer,” she says. “It’s been successful year after year.”
Thousands of farmers and vendors traveling to Illinois can have a big impact, and Hammel says the impact goes beyond the show grounds. “I remember one day being at Lowe’s and seeing three big semis there, and they were loading like crazy,” she says. “It turns out that vendors needed more material for their exhibits, and they were buying it there. They were buying from local stores.”
That anecdote is the tip of the iceberg for financial impact on the community. Hammel notes that within a 50-mile radius, the event uses about 9,000 hotel rooms each year. This includes rooms in Bloomington, Champaign, Shelbyville, Forsythe, Decatur and Monticello. And that’s rooms rented during the three-day show, not counting the longer time many vendors are on hand as the show gets set up.
With that number and the actual room nights, and using a conservative $240-per-night figure, the Decatur CVB estimates a $4 million impact on the community in rooms alone. That doesn’t count meals and groceries, fuel, and other supplies required to support visitors.
The show also draws influencers, as Mirinda Rothrock, president of the Greater Decatur Chamber of Commerce, points out: “Legislators and directors from Washington, D.C., and the state of Illinois attend to view what agriculture brings to the state. This keeps Decatur top-of-mind for decision-makers.”
And that spotlight shines on Decatur and the Macon County area, which is home to ADM; international business Tate & Lyle’s largest corn-processing plant; and the designing and manufacturing facilities for Caterpillar’s wheel-tractor scrapers, off-highway trucks and large mining trucks, Rothrock adds.
Hammel points to the many different events the show itself puts on that give back to the community, from the charity groups that work the food vendor positions and get a share of that income to food drives that allow students to attend the show for free. Those food drives can send much-needed supplies to local food banks.
Add in the FFA tire auction, which supports the state FFA program, and individual vendor programs aimed at supporting various causes and issues, and the 2019 Farm Progress Show will leave a significant impact on the region.
But Hammel says it goes further. This is an international show, and her office helps coordinate that effort, too. “We run the International Visitors Tent at the show, but this year we won’t be in a tent,” she adds. “We’ll be in the Morton Building.” This is now also home to what was the Hospitality Tent.
That international effort is no simple feat. Many visitors need support to get the visas they need to travel to the United States. “We’ve been busy working on embassy letters since January,” she says. “My staff has been working on those letters that get visitors their invitation to attend. We’re also ordering flags to represent all the countries we know will attend the show.”
Serving with the Decatur CVB for 23 years, Hammel has seen a lot of different efforts to promote and support the city and region. What surprises her about the Farm Progress Show?
“There’s a lot of commitment from the vendors at this show who come back year after year, and they want more every year,” she says.
In addition to all the new people who attend every year, Hammel says she sees a fair share of familiar faces at the event, especially after spending every year at the show. “I’ve been working this since 2005, and you would think that it would eventually be old news. Yet it’s interesting to me to see how when it comes up every year, people come to see it. Even nonfarm people want to be a part of the event.”
She shares one special part of the show for her. Early in the morning, before the gates officially open and her staff arrives, Hammel gets to the site. She picks up her golf car and enjoys the predawn time. “It’s so quiet, like the calm before the storm, before the show starts its day. I like that quiet time,” she says.