By the time this column gets published, my daughter will be married. That got me thinking about how weddings play into a community’s economic development and people attraction efforts.
When I got married 20 years ago, I did the same thing my daughter is doing. I got married in the town where my future spouse was living. Fortunately, that was very close to where my family was from. The only cost to attend was the drive. In my daughter’s case, we will not only have a long drive but a stay in a hotel as well. In order to help with final wedding plans and to have a bit of a Christmas celebration we are staying almost a week. My wife’s parents are coming for a few days, and so are mine. All told, just our hotel bills are going to be several thousand dollars. That’s economic development!
Not only will we stay in that community, but we will eat, make purchases and probably even do some tourist activities. She invited 400+ people to the wedding. What if 100 people come from out of town? What if each of them spent $100 while they were in that community? That’s $10,000 spent in a community in a day or two due to a wedding. That doesn’t even take into account the cost of the actual wedding. I’m going to make up some numbers here because my daughter doesn’t want me to know how much she actually spent . . . but . . . let’s say the reception hall was $5000, plus catering at $35 a plate, plus decorations, plus wedding clothes. You can see that a wedding can cost another $10,000 easily.
One event, $20,000 in economic development. Now how many weddings a year? 10, 20, 50? 50 weddings at $20,000 each is ONE MILLION DOLLARS in economic development. Perhaps you think that your small town doesn’t have that many people getting married. You’re right, it probably doesn’t. But what if someone created a destination wedding space right in your area? Decorations, dresses, catering, rental space . . . all provided locally. It could happen.
But wait! There’s more!
What about all those guests visiting your community. They aren’t wearing blindfolds as they search for the wedding venue, or shop for spot remover for their wedding outfit. They are in your community looking, learning, and experiencing what you have to offer. That’s what people attraction and tourism is all about. Does your tourism bureau support weddings? Probably not . . . but maybe they should think about it. Having a destination wedding venue (maybe an antique barn) might be the biggest tourist draw in your county . . . and you don’t even know it exists.
How do communities take advantage of this? How do you be welcoming to those people visiting? The first step is learning where those venues are. Work with the churches in your community to find out about weddings. Work with the retailers in the community to ensure they are open before/during/after the wedding. I have been to events in small towns where there are hundreds of people in the community for a private event or wedding . . . and the downtown is closed. The nearest store/restaurant/etc. was 20 miles down the road, so that’s where we went to spend our money.
Private events like weddings, funerals, or family reunions can be important to economic development and people attraction. Watch for opportunities to provide support to these events. Any time you can get someone to visit your community is a time to make a great impression on them. You never know if one of those guests is looking to make an investment or build jobs or homes . . . and they might just pick your community due to a great first impression!
If your community could benefit from any of the Rural Prosperity Nebraska ideas that I’ve discussed in this column, please reach out to me. I’d love to speak to your community about these topics. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or at the Thayer County office at 402-768-7212.
Jason Tuller is an Extension Educator for the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. He works in the Rural Prosperity Nebraska program and covers ten-county area including Kearney, Adams, Clay, Fillmore, Saline, Franklin, Webster, Nuckolls, Thayer, and Jefferson Counties.