Wednesday, October 24 through Saturday, October 27 might not be the ideal time to plan a leisurely outing with the family in downtown Indianapolis. Since some of you are winding up harvest, you may be ready for a break. But you might not find rubbing shoulders with some 50,000 FFA members and guests much more relaxing than combining corn or soybeans.
That huge throng descends upon the city this week for the National FFZ Convention. This is the second straight year it will be held in Indianapolis. City officials call it the biggest convention that it hosts during the year, and economic experts estimate it will mean $30 million in business revenue for various establishments within the city.
Not everyone shares equally in the bonanza, however. Jeff Williams, manager of a parking garage near the Convention Center downtown, says while he and his staff were all prepared for a crush of cars last year when the convention hit town, it didn't materialize. It's a different type of convention, he says. With a large majority of the students unable to drive and arriving on buses or coming with an adult, not by individual cars, there is less need for parking for cars.
Nevertheless, city leaders consider it a crown jewel, and go all out to make visitors feel welcome. Georgia Street is designated as FFA Way, and other street names are also changed in honor of the visitors in blue and gold jackets. Main convention events are held in Conseco Fieldhouse, but the Indianapolis Convention Center is used for other activities, including leadership workshops, judging contests and a vast career show for FFA members. Some events associated with the National FFA Convention are also slated for the Indiana State Fairgrounds on 38th Street.
In the past, sitting U/S/ presidents have addressed the convention, including Gerald Ford at Kansas City, Missouri in the mid-'70s and Jimmy Carter at Kansas City after Ford. The chief executive won't be appearing this year, but other dignitaries and top-notch motivational speakers from around the country will inspire students to reach their potential.
The event is so huge that the opening session, a hit with nearly everyone coming to town for the conference, is repeated three times, with all three events in Conseco Fieldhouse.
Not all of the activity and economic impact will be felt in Indianapolis and Marion County. Some chapters sign up for organized tours of ag-related businesses while in Indiana, including the Dow Elanco facilities. Others go sight-seeing on their own. Some farms in the doughnut counties, especially, have developed an entrepreneurial spirit, and offer tours for so much per student to tour their farm. There were several takers a year ago, even at Hunter's Honey Farm near Martinsville.
National FFA Officer elections will be held during the Saturday afternoon sessions. The actual election process is usually anti-climatic, since the officers are interviewed by a select committee all week long, and the committee recommends a slate of candidates. The slate is nearly always accepted, making the election an official formality.
Indiana reportedly has a candidate running for national office this year. Rich in past national officers, including several national presidents, Indiana has been shut out of leadership positions at the national level during the past several years. One of those past FFA presidents, Nels Ackerson, Westfield, if running for U.S. Congress this year.