Janesville5.2°

LaborFest makes changes to survive

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Shelly Birkelo
May 22, 2013

— Despite losing money the last five years, LaborFest will happen this year and next.

"Right now, we're coming back," said Joel Meier, LaborFest president. "But it has been talked about stopping the festival for a while, just having the parade and scaling it down in some way, shape or form."

Established in 1991 to organize a festive celebration and parade on Labor Day weekend, LaborFest helps families, friends and communities honor labor and celebrate Labor Day close to home. Although union labor leaders initiated forming LaborFest, its committee is made up of citizens, retirees, merchants, and community leaders.

The cost of putting on the three-day event, which includes a parade, costs about $85,000, Meier said. The nonprofit volunteer organization that hosts the event has lost money five straight years, he added.

LaborFest's income is drawn from three main sources: contributions from local businesses, sponsorships at various levels by between 30 and 50 groups, and a raffle, Meier said.

Expenses include parade units and permits and other behind-the-scenes parade costs, plus live bands and other entertainment, food and beer for the festival on the UAW Grounds, 1795 Lafayette St.

To cut costs and generate more revenue, parade expenses have been reduced to $10,000 each of the past few years. Also, two meat raffles were added.

"We definitely were on a downhill spiral for donations and losing money, but we've turned it around with the positive changes," Meier said. "We used to pay out a lot more money for everything, including (marching and entertainment) bands, but we've had to budget down to stay afloat.

"We've reduced costs pretty much across the board just to make sure we're not spending too much money to stay alive. I'm hoping this keeps us viable for a while to come," he said.

At one point within the last five years, Meier said LaborFest, Inc. was probably in the red by $15,000. That loss was reduced to about $10,000 two years ago and cut to $2,000 with an $8,000 swing in deposits last year, he said.

The closing of General Motors, the downturn in the economy and inclement weather all have contributed to diminished LaborFest revenue in recent years, Meier said. Loss of volunteers also hasn't helped.

"When I was first involved in LaborFest, there used to be 30 people at monthly meetings. Now we're lucky to have 10 people," Meier said. "We've got a good sponsor base now, but we need more volunteer support."

Since LaborFest is a long-standing local tradition, LaborFest Committee members aren't willing to give up having the celebration just yet, he said.

"We've revamped the way we raise money and cut expenses to keep LaborFest happening for this year and next," Meier said.

Longtime LaborFest Committee member Ronnie Thomas agreed.

"LaborFest 2013 is well on its way to becoming a reality," he said.



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