Pat Grant has a 103-year-old idea for spurring the economy - keep the National Western Stock Show going and growing so it endures for several more decades.
The 103rd edition of the stock show, rodeo and horse competition that started Saturday is at a critical juncture, said Grant, National Western president and chief executive.
The event that draws thousands of participants from most of the 50 states and several foreign countries has grown in attendance and participation, but Grant said its future is uncertain.
The 90-acre stock show and horse show complex in north Denver is landlocked, hemmed in by Interstate 70, railroad tracks, the South Platte River, a major city street and houses.
If the show stays put, it could lose land and buildings because the state is studying whether to realign or rebuild the part of the interstate that crosses over the site.
Raising money to relocate in one of the nation's worst recessions in decades will be tough, but Grant said moving might be the only way to make sure the National Western survives. He said he thinks investing in one of the country's premier showcases for agriculture would pay big dividends.
"We have to get people to understand the challenges and pressures we're under," Grant said. "If that's not answered, there won't be a National Western 10, 20 years from now, at some point in the future."
Hank Brown, a former U.S. senator and University of Colorado president, was one of the political and business leaders on a committee that recently took a look at the National Western's situation.
"The committee unanimously acknowledged that they have to find a new home," Brown said.
Grant and other National Western officials are meeting with other agriculture and civic groups to explore such ideas as combining the stock show complex with a Western heritage center.
The National Western is also still discussing the possibility of teaming with International Speedway Corp. at a new site in the metro area. Grant said there is overlap between stock show and rodeo fans and NASCAR fans.
Grant, a former state legislator, is also looking to state and local officials for support and ideas. After all, he said, Gov. Bill Ritter talked last week in the annual state of the state address about sparking the economy.
"They ought to think about the economic development impact of the National Western," Grant said. "A lot of business is accomplished here."
Ranchers, farmers and business people from across the country and world travel to Denver for the annual 16-day event to sell animals, swap information and network. Grant said livestock sales during last year's stock show generated nearly $8 million.
A 1998 Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce study showed the stock show generated about $84 million in direct economic benefits, including hotel and restaurant business, in the metro area. An updated study hasn't been done.
And Colorado Agriculture Commissioner John Stulp said the livestock industry continues to be an important part of the state economy. He said cash receipts of the state's beef industry total about $3 billion annually, making it the agriculture industry's largest segment.
The stock show is a national draw because it's a showcase for the latest in genetics and breeding, said William Wailes, head of Colorado State University's animal sciences department.
The International Livestock Congress USA will meet Tuesday in Denver. The congress is sponsored in part by the National Western, the National Cattlemen's Foundation and the International Stockmen's Educational Foundation.
The number of entries of horses, cattle, hogs, sheep, poultry and other livestock for sale and display at the National Western is down slightly this year from last year's roughly 15,000. Bill Angell, the show's livestock manager, said the number of cattle entries is down about 10 percent from more than 10,000 last year, but he thinks the final number will be higher than the preregistrations.
"We've already seen the first wave of cattle and the barns are full," Angell said. "Fuel prices have come down, so it will be easier for people to get here now."
Overall attendance last year was 673,449 people. The record was 726,972 in 2006 at the National Western's 100th anniversary.
The stock show runs through Jan. 25.