St. Paul, Molalla events prosper despite recession
By ANNA WILLARD
ST. PAUL, Ore. -- Over the past year the U.S. economy has struggled, but community rodeos that rely on business sponsors have weathered the recession.
The St. Paul and Molalla rodeos -- two of the biggest rodeos in the Willamette Valley -- are no exception. The rodeos take place within 25 miles of each other on the Fourth of July weekend; the events are so close together, the rodeos get a lot of crossover contestants.
"We stage and pace the rodeos so contestants can make it to both of them," said Michelle Mills, president of the Molalla Buckeroo Association.
One factor that has helped both rodeos is tradition. This year was St. Paul's 75th anniversary, while Molalla hosted its 87th annual rodeo.
Consistently having good livestock is key to attracting top-notch rodeo contestants and more rodeo fans. Molalla and St. Paul use livestock from several stock contractors to ensure that competitors have a fair shot.
Since there are so many rodeos during the Independence Day weekend, stock contractors need to be contacted and signed early to ensure high-quality livestock, said Bill Smith, arena director at the St. Paul rodeo.
"We want to be able to give them a 20-plus (points) horse. Out of four (stock contractors), we get a lot of National Finals stock," Smith said.
Another part of that tradition is the volunteer support. Approximately 400 volunteers work the St. Paul rodeo, while Molalla's rodeo association, members and helpers are also volunteers.
St. Paul's rodeo is the 16th largest rodeo in the nation, and is the only Wrangler Million Dollar rodeo in Oregon. The event brings in approximately $15 million to St. Paul's economy and surrounding communities. Smith expected to have around 50,000 people come through for the weekend. Molalla expected 35,000 to 50,000 people as well.
The communities' businesses also sponsor the rodeos that bring so many people to their town each year. With the recession, both Molalla and St. Paul rodeos found that getting sponsors was not quite as simple as in past years.
"We did lose some sponsors, but we lost more sponsors last year because some had gone out of business," Mills explained.
This year, Molalla's bigger sponsors contributed more than in the past, and smaller local businesses have found there is value in large numbers of people seeing their name at the rodeo, Mills said.
"It's not as easy to get sponsorship. There's just not as much money floating around," Smith said.
Rodeo cowboys have to pay their own way when it comes to entry fees and transportation. To finance all of the travel costs and the fees, competitors need to find sponsors as well.
"This isn't a hobby for these guys," Smith said.
However, the number of vendors at each rodeo has gone up. Both events have waiting lists of vendors eager to bring their products to the rodeos.
"Three years ago we were at 30 vendors, this year we have 72," Mills said. "We've just had nonstop calls from vendors coming in."
After the rodeos, the profits generated by the events are given back to the communities. In St. Paul, approximately $50,000 is donated for scholarships, breast cancer programs and local emergency services. The Molalla Buckeroo Association also donates money to community programs and organizations.