Raise your hand if you plan on experiencing the Alpena fireworks. Put your hand down if you already have a fireworks button or made a donation. If your hand is still up, let's talk. That doesn't mean the rest of you should stop reading because there is something here for you as well. Funding for the fireworks has changed over time but that history doesn't matter. What matters today are the following points: First, Alpena continues to have an amazing fireworks display. I won't say it's the best because that's subjective. You can decide that on your own. Second, the fireworks are funded 100 percent through donations. Tax dollars are not allocated to the fireworks unless a donation is made from a local municipality. Third, thousands of people, from Michigan and elsewhere, enjoy the fireworks each year.
So what's my point? The fireworks are only as good as the amount raised to pay for them. For the past few years, Alpena has been able to raise around $19,000 for the fireworks. Last year was the first year the city was unable to donate $5,000 to kick off the fundraising. Whether you agree or disagree with that decision doesn't matter (whether you agree or disagree with tax dollars supporting fireworks in the first place doesn't matter). What matters is those funds are no longer there but the community still wants fireworks. Last year the Chamber Ambassadors sold buttons to help fill that gap. Their efforts were highly successful - more than $20,000 was raised from buttons and other donations.
The buttons, however, play a much larger role than simply filling the funding gap. The buttons take the pressure off a few organizations and families having to donate the majority of the funds. And that's how it should be. If every person who watched the fireworks bought a button, Alpena's fireworks would be amazing. To illustrate my point, let's say that 6,000 people watch the fireworks. If 2,500 of those people bought a button, that would be $12,500. If the other 3,500 people gave what they could, and averaged $2 per person, that would be another $7,000. That would be a grand total of $19,500 for the fireworks (minus the cost of the buttons so figure $19,000). Seems like simple logic, right? Northeast Michigan, I know we can achieve that. And if a great fireworks show is what you want, we have to achieve that.
I am not naive to the fact that some people will choose to "get" without "giving," that some families are not in a financial position to help this year, and the fireworks are not the only thing funded by the few but enjoyed by many. Asking others to help fund the fireworks is an easy argument to make though because it's a very basic argument. If you enjoy the fireworks, you should contribute. If you value the economic impact the Fourth of July has on Alpena, in part because of the fireworks, you should donate.
I was in Las Vegas recently and had the opportunity to catch up with a friend who used to live in Alpena. She is now married to someone from another country. She told her husband they had to go to Alpena for the Fourth of July because Alpena has the best fireworks she had ever seen. Her husband said his country has lots of fireworks. He was a little hesitant to believe her. Don't forget they also live in Las Vegas where flashy and bright is everywhere. They came back to Alpena for the Fourth of July a few years ago and he agrees that Alpena, Mich., has the best fireworks he has ever seen. Their feelings are not uncommon. At the chamber, we receive many positive comments on the fireworks every year from visitors and locals.
Fireworks are a celebration and reminder of our freedom. They are an economic driver for Northeast Michigan. The show will only be as good as this community steps up to fund. That means we all need to work together on this one. Kudos to all of the volunteers and businesses that help with this effort. We shouldn't expect our businesses to solely fund this. We shouldn't rely on a few families to make large donations every year. We should, as a community, encourage each other to help pay for what thousands of us gather to watch every year.
Jackie Krawczak is the executive director of the Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce. Her column appears bi-weekly on Tuesday.