Huge upcoming festivals could provide Cape Coral and the Southwest Florida region the jump start it needs to rebound from nearly two years of economic hardships.
Oktoberfest, one of the city's biggest events, begins on Oct. 16 and draws in approximately 30,000 people among two weekends. Gerhard Veith, president of the German-American Social Club, said it's one of the biggest ethnic festivals anywhere in the state.
Not only does it draw people from Lee, Collier and Charlotte counties, but visitors come from Orlando, Sarasota, Miami and Palm Beach - all communities with their own German clubs. Regional events like Oktoberfest contribute to the economy by drawing in tourists who buy food, drinks and hotel rooms.
Some other regional events, such as the Edison Festival of Lights and Cape Coral Festival of the Arts in January, draw thousands of visitors. More than 100,000 people attended the city's Festival of the Arts this year to see the works of 300 local artists, while the Edison Festival of Lights, named one of North America's Top 100 Events, is in its 72nd year.
Hundreds of people from around the city also compete in the Tour de Cape at the start of the new year.
Even with a sour economy since 2008, Veith said that Oktoberfest is going strong.
"We had a fairly decent year last year, it wasn't the peak of Oktoberfest, but it wasn't bad," he said. "In 2008 the economy didn't affect us."
Southwest Florida residents enjoy the cultural music, delicious food and reasonable prices, he said. And most of the food and drink are procured locally. A butcher who specializes in German food from Sarasota provides meat for the event, but the rest of it is bought from Lee County vendors.
Local beer distributors are the ones who sell Budweiser and Becks beer products to the event, he said.
While these events help cash to circulate across the region, Veith said that 95 percent of the workers at Oktoberfest are volunteer and therefore don't have any effect on the amount of jobs.
Helen Ramey, spokesperson for the Cape Coral Community Redevelopment Agency, said that Oktoberfest is a stimulus to the city's economy. While the CRA has no part in managing Oktoberfest, Ramey said some downtown businesses have emulated the event's success to reap its benefits.
During the International Beer Festival participating businesses sold specialty beers and food from a country they chose. The Leapin' Lizard on Cape Coral Parkway served Warsteiner beer, grilled bratwurst, krauterschnitzel and other traditional German food.
Owner Mary Ann Evans said these German specials will continue through the month of October for enthusiasts of the cultural food and beer.
What Oktoberfest ultimately offers the community is a chance to celebrate a change of seasons without the dropping temperatures or colorful foliage, said Ramey.
"Here we don't have that luxury, so Oktoberfest kicks off the beginning of season and shortly after our visiting guests come down," she said.
Certain guests to Cape Coral are from other parts of Florida and European countries including Germany, meaning that they need a place to stay while in town.
"I would imagine anybody who drives over is staying overnight, whether in a hotel or visiting with friends," said Ramey. "The entire city benefits from that."
Oktoberfest is such a popular event that city officials plan on reaching out to visitors in a way that showcases Cape Coral.
"The economic development office will have a booth," said Christy Vogt, from the Cape Coral Economic Development Office. "We want to capture some of the attention of the visitors in Germany, because they do come."
The office wants to let visitors know that Cape Coral is a good place to live.
"When people come to an event they look at the other things around," said Vogt. "Things have changed so much with the development of Pine Island Road, that I'm sure it will generate some business for them."
Tourism is the biggest industry in Florida. Most visitors come to the state for beaches, theme parks or the weather, but many also attend festivals hosted year round. Eighty-two million people visited Florida in 2007 and generated $65 billion worth of taxable sales, according to the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau.
In October 2008 the county had 145,000 visitors staying in hotels or motels and another 200,000 who visited the area but stayed with friends or relatives. The amount of people visiting increased by 10.6 percent from the previous October.
Visitors from Germany in October 2008 made up 13 percent of all those coming to Lee County, 1 percent above visitors from the United Kingdom.
Oktoberfest will be Oct. 16 to 18 and Oct. 23 to 25. For more information on the event, se page 1B of today's Breeze or visit www.gasc-capecoral.com.