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Innovation and Economics of Parks and Recreation in Your Local Community

August 5, 2015  |  Steve Card, Director, Dalton Parks and Recreation Department
Steve Card
Loyalty and passion are what we all want for the communities we serve. Loyalty is best described as residents’ general satisfaction with a place, the likelihood to recommend it to others and their outlook on the community’s future. Passion, in this sense, is best described as a connection to a place and the pride taken living there. Local Parks and Recreation play a key role in achieving these outcomes. Through facilities and programming community members engage in the outdoors, get healthier and connect to places to find relaxation.
 
Often overlooked are the economic benefits that Parks and Recreation bring to the table. Attracting tourists through activities and events generates hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue a year in the state. Tourism is the second largest industry in Georgia. Sporting events is one way to begin the process. Knowing the parameters of your facilities and community is key when looking to bring in events. Do you have enough ball fields and staffing? Does your community have enough hotels and restaurants to ensure a good experience for all participants? Some “real world” examples: Bainbridge generated $1.89 million through seven fishing tournaments; Tifton (Tift County) brought in $3.4 million hosting the GRPA state swim meet; Dalton generated $3.2 million hosting a 4-week senior softball tournament; and Cobb County brought in $79 million through 36 athletic events contracting over 60,000 hotel room nights.
 
Attracting business is also a key economic factor. Everyone is aware of this highly competitive task. Companies often want to know what park facilities are available and what programming opportunities are available for families. Corporate CEOs list quality–of-life as the 3rd highest priority when relocating; small businesses list quality-of-life as the No. 1 priority! When recruiting and retaining young professionals, quality-of-life ranks No. 1 or No. 2 based on the data studied. As communities we spend an average of $200K to educate a child from kindergarten through 12th grade. Often times they go on to higher education and don’t return. From an investment standpoint we must do all we can to instill loyalty and passion to ensure they return as vested community members. Parks also enhance real estate values. Values increase from 5-10 percent based on proximity to parks, which results in high property taxes. Georgia’s climate is a key consideration when attracting retirees. We are also a top 10 tax friendly state for seniors. Understanding that seniors stay active longer is a must when offering programs that seniors will want to participate in and that will entice them to relocate to your community.
 
Innovations are paramount as communities engage in current and future recreation planning, recreation facilities development and recreation programming. As you begin planning ask yourself if your community’s demographics are reflected in program offerings, citizen board members, parkland acquisition priorities and facility designs. Look for partners when planning a community facility.
 
A recently completed community center in Dalton not only houses recreational needs but also has a “women, infant and children” wing and a health department wing staffed by a full time doctor.
 
Utilize technology at your facilities. For example, at the Dalton Mack Gaston Community Center all patrons check in at a computer station when entering allowing us to know which programs were utilized and how the facilities were used. This allows us to adjust staffing needs and operations based on data. We have optimized this for our maintenance and operations staff and programming directors. Security cameras also assist in keeping patrons, equipment and facilities safe. Over a third of our American population is overweight, and, for the first time in history, the obese outnumber the malnourished. Innovations in health offerings should be wide ranging. This may be as simple as partnering with local organizations to do any of the following:  
 
  • offer food and lifestyle classes at your parks and/ or facilities;  
  • start community gardens and fruit orchards in existing park space;
  • utilize your parks for “movement” programs (such as Crossfit, Zumba, boot camps, etc.);
  • organize nontraditional events (like mud runs, obstacle courses, costume races, kid’s triathlons, disc golf, bocce and sand volleyball). 
There are even communities in Georgia that have partnered with doctors and have their parks “prescribed” to patients to get healthy as well as offer morning “walk with the doc” sessions.
 
These are just a few suggestions. There are specialists or groups in almost every community who are willing to help meet community needs. All of these programs/ activities are either no cost or very little cost to the department and get people outside and active.
 
Data shows that 93 percent of people reading this have at some point in their lives been touched by Parks and Recreation. These are only a few examples of why I feel Parks and Recreation should be considered an essential service in your local community. Urge your local professionals to be innovative in opportunities offered to your residents. Since change is inevitable, how we deal with the change will ultimately determine the success of our individual communities. So the question is: Are YOU invoking loyalty and passion in YOUR community?
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