Loss of Democratic National Convention an economic ‘meh,’ experts say

Atlanta snubbed for Chicago, but being passed over for nominating convention won’t dent local economy
080221 Atlanta: Visitors to Centennial Olympic Park take in the Olympic rings on Monday, August 2, 2021, in Atlanta.   “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

080221 Atlanta: Visitors to Centennial Olympic Park take in the Olympic rings on Monday, August 2, 2021, in Atlanta. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Boosters dreamed of heads in hotel beds, full restaurants and ringing cash registers from the Democratic National Convention.

But whatever the politics, the metro Atlanta economy didn’t lose all that much when the Democrats announced Tuesday they would take their 2024 convention to Chicago instead, experts say.

Although local party leaders touted the benefits of having tens of thousands of people come to the area for a week — with various meetings and networking at a range of venues — the positive impact would have been far less than claimed, according to economists who study the impact of major events.

Big events are almost never as big a boon as the boosters claim, said economist J.C. Bradbury of Kennesaw State University.

“I’m not saying the impact is zero — although it often is,” he said. “There are obviously going to be some winners, but there are also going to be losers.”

About 50,000 people would have come to town for the event, according to the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau, which said it had secured more than 15,000 area hotel rooms to accommodate those visitors. The ACVB also said a convention would provide work for many construction and electrical workers.

All those pluses may be real, but boosters tend to ignore how a huge event also displaces other spending, Bradbury said.

Big crowds and traffic tie-ups for the DNC would also likely have forced other consumers to change their behavior and activities, which would have dampened — or shut down — the income of some local businesses. And some workers offered jobs at a convention would have given up other work to do them.

Or they may have come from out of town and taken their pay elsewhere when they were done.

Moreover, as with the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, some people would have avoided town completely amid a large disruption of routines.

Groups that lobbied for the convention said that it would have had a dramatic economic impact, adding more than $200 million to the area’s economy.

That estimate is wildly inflated, said economist Frank Stephenson of Berry College.

“My work suggests host cities benefit but not nearly as much as traditional economic impact reports claim,” he said.

Studies of other cities that held political conventions showed that the number of non-convention visitors at many hotels dropped during the event, he said.

Similarly, economists discounted as wildly overstated claimed losses of some $100 million from Major League Baseball pulling its All-Star Game from Truist Park a few years ago.

But, even if the huge claims were true, the effect would be marginal in an economy the size of this region’s, Stephenson said.

“They are not really a big deal in a $474 billion economy,” he said of metro Atlanta. “The claims amount to a gain of less than a dime per $100 of GDP.”