The crowds are coming as Half Century show kicks off this week

Amish farmers during a field demonstration of loose hay harvesting during the Half Century of Progress show in Rantoul in 2015. The 2019 version of the show runs this Thursday through Saturday on the grounds of the Rantoul Aviation Center.

RANTOUL — Every two years, Rantoul is home to a second city as tens of thousands of people descend on the community for the Half Century of Progress farm show at Rantoul Aviation Center.

The event helps to put Rantoul on the map, and it provides an economic shot in the arm for many businesses, especially hotels, restaurants and filling stations.

This year’s show starts Thursday and runs through Sunday.

Ryan Reid, director of sports and events for the Champaign County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Half Century provides a $2.9 million boost.

“In all of Rantoul I’m sure the event will fill the hotels,” Reid said. “I was just at Rantoul’s Quarters Inn. They are full.”

He said nearby communities such as Paxton and Champaign-Urbana will also benefit.

Area camping centers are also an option.

Terri Reifsteck, the bureau’s vice president of marketing, said the nearly $3 million benefit was figured based on attendance figures from previous shows, using the Destinations International Economic Impact Calculator.

Reifsteck said the bureau doesn’t have firm numbers of where show attendees hail from. Certainly the Midwest is well-represented, and people also come from across the country and overseas.

John Fredrickson, who co-chairs the show for the I&I Antique Tractor and Gas Engine Club, said the club is expecting more people than ever this year.

“We are receiving a tremendous amount of inquiries from people who have never been there,” Fredrickson said last week, noting that much of the interest comes via word of mouth.

The club also does its fair share of advertising for the event nationally and locally.

Rantoul Village Administrator Scott Eisenhauer said “there is no question” that Half Century gives Rantoul a cash shot in the arm.

“The economic impact of those five days, considering the day before the show opens as well, is the hotel-motel tax we generate and the sales tax revenue we generate.”

This will mark the first time Eisenhauer, who took the village administrator’s job last year, will experience the show.

The Holiday Inn Express opened in December 2016. From fiscal year 2016 to fiscal year 2018, the city’s hotel-motel revenue jumped from $96,340 to $175,239, and part of that is likely due to Half Century.

“Looking back at the revenue the city gained over the course of the (previous) shows, there is no question in the years that we have had it there has been an increase,” Eisenhauer said.

Reifsteck said the demographic of those attending is primarily the agriculture community, not as much the general public.  

Many people visit the Half Century show and then stay in the area to visit the Farm Progress Show, which starts next Tuesday in Decatur.

“They are very different shows with different purposes,” Fredrickson said. “I think people attend Farm Progress are going there for more of an education, whereas with the Half Century, it is more reminiscing. For a lot of the farmers, it’s more nostalgic, whereas when they go to Decatur, it’s more technology and what’s new.”

Fredrickson said the Half Century show draws primarily an older crowd as well.

He said many people stay in Champaign-Urbana hotels, and also visit the University of Illinois “for the ag component” such as the Institute for Genomic Biology and tours of the College of ACES, the Morrow Plots, all the different ag attractions and colleges there.”

Then they travel to Decatur for Farm Progress.

Eisenhauer said he believes there is another benefit to being able to host Half Century. It instills more community pride.

“There’s a community-character component of pride when you can host such a successful large event such as that,” Eisenhauer said.