Starting next week, Mountain Home will once again play host to one of southern Idaho's largest public events.
By July 28 -- maybe even sooner -- the first of thousands of travelers will descend to our part of the state as they prepare to be a part of the Mountain Home Country Music Festival.
While it's tough to put an exact number on how many people will attend the three-day event, organizers are preparing for at least 15,000 people. Putting that into perspective, that one event in the foothills north of town will more than double the population of Mountain Home.
Since it's debut last July, the boost to the economy in some parts of the county was pretty dramatic. While we didn't see as much of an impact in Mountain Home, there are people in this town continuing to find ways to draw people here versus watching them make a beeline to the festival grounds.
While it may not happen this time around, city officials are hoping that the festival will provide the same type of economic boost that two Oregon communities see each time they host a similar venue there.
Businesses in one of those communities emphasized that the festival alone generates enough of an economic boost in just a couple of days than these shops and stores make throughout the remainder of the year. For them, the festival has become the "lifeblood" of their existence.
From Mountain Home's perspective, it's clear that some businesses in town stand to benefit from the concert, especially those north of the interstate where all the RVs, campers, trucks, cars will pass.
Don't believe me? Try reserving a hotel room up on the hill. I'd wager good money that every last one of those rooms is already booked. I'd better even more money that those reservations started rolling in right after last year's festival.
While it's understandable that some businesses here will benefit more than others, I believe that the businesses that got overlooked last year will see a boost in revenue if they take a few steps to roll out the welcome mat. After all, not everyone that goes to the festival will stay there all three days. It's a safe bet some of them will book a hotel or motel room here and then drive back and forth to the concert site each day.
This is where Mountain Home needs to put on its "A" game, and it needs to start right now. While everyone in this town is used to how this community functions, including all of the quirks that make Mountain Home so unique, the visitors we welcome next week will base their opinion on what they see and who they talk to.
The importance of making a good first impression became abundantly clear during a recent visit by international economic development expert Roger Brooks. During a public meeting, he said there are parts of Mountain Home that are in pretty good shape.
However, he emphasized that there are places leading into town that look -- and there's no way to politely put this -- absolutely horrible. When people drive here and all they see are homes and buildings that look like they've been abandoned for decades, it sets the wrong tone.
Granted, it's going to take time to either tear down or fix up these eyesores, but there are things we can do right now to put things into motion. One of the first things we can do is giving our shops and stores a thorough once-over inside and out to ensure everything is presentable. The same is true with property along the city's main thoroughfares.
It starts by store owners buying a $15 bottle of weed killer to knock down the knee-high weeds I see growing up thought the gaps in sidewalks or along building fronts. The next step involves sweeping the cobwebs, dust and trash out of all the nooks and crannies along the outside of your shop or store along with an effort to clean the windows and sprucing up what you have on display in them.
There's nothing worse than having a visitor walk by your place and it looks like a dump -- that you've done absolutely nothing to take care of your property. If you don't care about how your store looks, it's a safe bet that visitors won't care either, and they'll simply continue to walk or drive by.
There's nothing that says "we don't care" more than having trash along the streets or in front of a business, areas that are not maintained and falling apart and lawns where the weeds are taller than the flowers next to them. It doesn't take a rocket scientist or brain surgeon to run a lawn mower or push a broom.
Here's another suggestion: Make sure our visitors know you're open by placing a visible "sandwich board" sign along the sidewalk that clearly says "open." If you plan on offering discounts to anyone with a festival wristband, you should include that information on that message board.
Here's something else to consider, especially the "mom and pop shops" that make up a bulk of the stores in town. Make sure you're open when the visitors are out and about in town. This means changing a store's hours so it's open longer during the day and, more important, into the early evening. After all, you don't want to spend a lot of time and effort inviting customers to town only to have them see "closed" signs in most of the windows.
Ultimately, what I'd like to see are happy visitors that like Mountain Home so much that they want to stay here an extra day just to see what else we have to offer. If these guests like what they see this year, maybe they'll want to make Mountain Home one of their travel destinations when they return next year.
On the other hand, if they drive into town and don't like what they see, it's a safe bet they won't return.
This is why it's so critical to ensure this doesn't happen. There are a number of things we seriously need to tackle before these folks arrive so they feel welcome. We only have one chance to make a positive first impression with these visitors. Let's make sure it's a good one.
-- Brian S. Orban