The Big Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram Great Lakes Grand Prix powerboat race celebrated its milestone 10th anniversary last month with yet another milestone – visitors to the event pumped more than $12.4 million into LaPorte County’s economy, the highest amount ever and $2 million more than last year’s event. In addition, a report summarizing the figures, released by the Visit Michigan City LaPorte, shows an all-time high attendance of more than 190,000 people for the three-day event, held Aug. 2-5.

 “We couldn’t be happier with the outcome,” said Jack Arnett, executive director of Visit Michigan City/LaPorte. “This event has become our signature event – something our community can be proud of.”

The Grand Prix benefits the community in many ways, according to the report which was compiled for the CVB by Certec Inc., a marketing analysis group based in Lexington, Kentucky. The group is recognized as a leader in producing economic impact studies on events relating to tourism. The report shows that visitors from out of town spent more than $8 million on direct expenditures such as food and beverage, shopping and transportation, accounting for about 75 per cent of the total $12.4 million.

Jobs directly related to the Grand Prix provided nearly $2.8 million in wages to LaPorte County workers, and non-local visitor spending alone generated $3.2 million in taxes, with $642,600 of the total going into local government coffers, the report says.

The annual Grand Prix is part of the popular summer race circuit staged by Super Boat International, North America’s top organization for the sport. The race, held in Lake Michigan just off the shore of Michigan City’s Washington Park, features some of the world’s fastest and most colorful powerboats zooming at speeds nearing 200 miles per hour.

Arnett said the Grand Prix was staged for the first time 10 years ago to showcase Michigan City and its lakefront. After much research of potential events, the LaPorte County Convention & Visitors Bureau decided that hosting a stop on the Super Boat International circuit would be the best fit. This year, the races alone, held as the grand finale on Sunday, drew some 80,000 spectators.

Events leading up to the races also were a huge draw, with the Taste of Michigan City, sponsored by the Michigan City Mainstreet Association, drawing 15,000 people on Friday and 45,000 on Saturday. Other popular venues for the weekend, drawing anywhere from 5,000 to 45,000 depending on the day, included vendors and musical performances in Washington Park, a parade of the giant boats, and a huge block party on Saturday.

Two out of five out-of-town visitors were attending the Grand Prix for the first time, the report says, illustrating the growing visibility of the Grand Prix. Arnett agrees that more and more people are becoming aware of the event, adding “I would attribute the increase in the economic impact to the fact that the race has become one of the lead events of the summer throughout the region.

“Having been named “Best Festival in Indiana” last year by Midwest Living magazine and the Indiana Tourism Association certainly didn’t hurt our visibility,” Arnett added. It appears that local residents love the Grand Prix as well, with the report showing they contributed an additional $476,700 in expenditures, a figure not included in the $12.4 million.

The report also concludes that the annual Grand Prix, which drew visitors from 10 states, gives visibility to other tourism venues in Michigan City. The report notes that in addition to the race and all the events directly connected with it, visitors participated in other tourist-related activities, including dining, going to the beach, swimming, and visiting the Blue Chip Casino and Washington Park Zoo.

“Tourism is a key component of the LaPorte County economy,” the report said. “The county’s festivals and events are an important part of the local tourism industry.”