A grant application from Moogfest to Buncombe County has revealed quite a bit about the event including a loss of over $1.5 million. Moogfest 2014 received a $90,000 economic development grant from Buncombe County and $90,000 from the city of Asheville. They're getting started on 2015 with a request for $250,000 in community development funds. But beyond the financial success of the festival is the question of their stated goal, attracting new businesses to the region, which is hard to relate to what they're actually doing.
By most accounts Moogfest 2014 was a successful event that was a good fit for Asheville. It was certainly strong artistically but there was a bit of a disconnect between the event and the stated business claims.
The Local Business Case for Moogfest
A big part of the business case for Moogfest was put forth in a press release that came out after the event:
"Beyond a traditional music festival, Moogfest aims to be an engine for driving economic development in Western North Carolina. While it was undoubtedly a short-term, shot-in-the-arm for downtown retailers, restaurants and hotels, the long-term goal say Moogfest organizers, 'is to inspire big thinking start-ups, entrepreneurs, and innovators to consider Asheville as a community to relocate their forward thinking businesses, just as Bob Moog did in 1978'..."
"Moog Music President Mike Adams took the risk on financing this speculative venture because of the potential payoff for the community's future – helping to attract new businesses and create jobs in Western North Carolina."
Though an economic impact report is not currently available, Moogfest was expected to bring obvious economic benefits to Asheville as would any big festival in a region that's strongly supported by tourism. But with a poorly located and poorly attended tech expo/job fair and little else beyond quality of life to attract new businesses, it's unclear how Moogfest will achieve its bigger aims.
Can Moogfest Attract Tech Firms To Asheville?
Moogfest is considered an investment and this year's event lost $1.5 million. Aside from the combined county and city grants of $180,000, the rest of the $2.74 million the event cost was borne privately.
Moogfest is requesting $250,000 from the Buncombe County Culture Recreation Authority, a new agency, though how well it does may have to do with the combination of competing requests and at least one sceptical County Manager.
According to the Moogfest grant application, they believe they can cut $300,000 next year and increase ticket revenue. They also feel an underwriting sponsor is necessary and believe they have "seven legitimate candidates interested in underwriting: Google, SAS, Microsoft, Red Hat, IBM, Samsung, and Intel."
That's good news for the future of Moogfest. And it's certainly a festival that can benefit the region as a high profile representative of the more progressive aspects of regional culture, particularly in Asheville.
But the stated mission is a bit harder to connect:
"Our mission is to enhance the profile of Asheville, WNC, the State, and the region in a manner that will attract technology firms to the area. Moogfest brands Asheville and by association the State with a cool factor that other areas of the country would have a very difficult time matching. This gives our area a unique competitive advantage when it comes to attracting and recruiting new technology firms to the area."
The problem is that tech companies don't relocate based on cool festivals. And the Triangle, particularly Raleigh and Durham, are getting known as North Carolina's centers for tech startups.
In fact, my experience of meeting some of the startups at the tech expo was to find out how much cooler the startup scene is in Raleigh and Durham.
As a current Asheville resident who's been checking out the various manifestations of startup culture in the area, I can say it exists but is fragmented and the people trying to make it something more don't seem to be connecting well beyond their own scenes which is kind of weird in such a small place.
So, though I think Moogfest is potentially a great festival that could be a big part of Asheville culture and branding moving forward, the argument that Moogfest could achieve its stated mission of "attracting technology firms to the area" seems weak at best.
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Hypebot Senior Contributor Clyde Smith (@fluxresearch) posts music crowdfunding news @CrowdfundingM. To suggest topics about music tech, DIY music biz or music marketing for Hypebot, contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.