The impact grew in 2016 even with storms that hampered the first day of activities. The event was held April 29-30 in downtown Fort Smith, and included a concert by Jackyl, a Harley Davidson national demo truck, and coordination with the Darby Legacy Project to unveil a statue of Gen. William Darby on a motorcycle. The rally had about 50 vendors, more than double the 2015 number.

Bottom line numbers are based on an estimated 25,000 motorcycles – an estimate from Steel Horse Rally organizers and the Fort Smith Police Department – with 1.5 average riders per bike. The impact also includes an estimate of 18,090 “daytrippers” – non-riders who attend the event. The total headcount for rally attendees was 55,090.

Based on a modeling method from Destination Marketing Association International, the impact totaled $8.346 million. That impact would have generated $216,996 in city tax revenue, well ahead of the $168,194 tax revenue estimate in 2015.

“I am extremely proud of these numbers that show the tremendous positive economic impact that the 2nd Annual Steel Horse Rally has on our community, and how much the event grew in just one year,” said Dennis Snow, president of the Steel Horse Rally Inc. “Thanks to the amazing Steel Horse Rally sponsors, volunteer team, board of directors and motorcycle riders from all over the country who made the 2nd Annual Steel Horse Rally a huge success.”

Snow said he was moved to see people at the Steel Horse Rally enjoying themselves in Fort Smith and riding nearby scenic roads. Planning is already underway for the 2017 rally, Snow said, which is set for May 5-6 in downtown Fort Smith.

“We want the Steel Horse Rally to continue to grow each year, restoring civic pride and showcasing the best that our the area has to offer,” Snow said. “I am so proud of everyone who made the 2016 Steel Horse Rally a huge success. I look forward to making the 2017 Steel Horse Rally even bigger and better.”

Once shunned by communities, motorcycles rallies are growing and becoming more accepted, especially as the demographic has changed to more riders being professionals with disposable income. The Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism has in recent years worked to promote motorcycle tourism in the state, to include producing a motorcycle guide and having a separate landing page on the state’s tourism website.

A 2013 analysis of the now famous Bikes, Blues & BBQ rally in Northwest Arkansas showed that the impact that year ranged from $69.411 million to $80.98 million. Event attendance was estimated to range between 348,000 and 478,000.

A June 2012 report from Kaplan University and Allied American University said motorcycle tourism can have “significant” gains for a city or region.

“Motorcycle tourism is growing and attracting new riders with both disposable income and leisure time – the necessary ingredients for tourism. Appealing to this niche market can lead to significant economic benefits,” noted the study, which provided analysis in how better to study motorcycle tourism.

A September 2015 “Wing Ding” event in Huntsville Ala., attracted an estimated 10,000-12,000 Honda Gold Wing riders, and resulted in an estimated economic impact of $3 million.

Michael Tilley, a co-owner of Talk Business & Politics, is a member of the Steel Horse Rally board of directors.