First Lady Michelle Obama's Saturday commencement address at the University of California, Merced, will trigger an estimated $1.1 million in business for the hard pressed area.
"Obviously, it's a welcome windfall," Merced Development Manager Frank Quintero told DailyFlotus at PoliticsDaily.com after tallying up the dollar impact of Mrs. Obama's visit. Mrs. Obama's daytrip is an anticipated bonanza for hotels, restaurants, gas stations and retail establishments. A local carwash is getting extra cash detailing three cars expected to be used in Mrs. Obama's motorcade.
Quintero said merchants are being told to be stocked and staffed with some 25,000 folks expected to flood the community.
The city of Merced is organizing a street fair and festival to take advantage of the overflow crowd _ families and friends of graduates not lucky enough to get a ticket to hear Mrs. Obama speak. Large screen televisions will be set up in downtown Merced to beam Mrs. Obama's speech live.
"Mrs. Obama is going to be putting UC Merced on the national landscape, so we are putting on our best for her, too," said City of Merced spokesman Mike Conway.
The First Lady is a very welcome one woman stimulus. The central California city _ population 80,608 _ has been hard hit by the economic meltdown. "We have been ground zero for foreclosure loans going bad and unemployment," Quintero said.
UC Merced spokesman Tonya Luiz said that before Mrs. Obama agreed to speak at graduation ceremonies, between 2,000 to 2,500 guests of 500 graduates were expected. After Mrs. Obama was persuaded by a group of students to keynote the commencement, the school opened the event to the public and now up to 12,000 will attend.
"When else would the average person in Merced, California see or hear the First Lady?" Luiz said.
The UC Merced campus opened in Fall, 2005 and Saturday's graduation marks the first for students who started there as freshmen. Mrs. Obama's visit "is our biggest event ever," Luiz said.
The university budget for the graduation has swelled from $100,000 to $700,000 because of the costs of preparing for the large crowd Mrs. Obama will draw. The commencement moved from the campus quad to an area called "the bowl," quickly being transformed into an amphitheater for the graduation.
So far, UC Merced has lined up some corporate sponsors to help foot the bills; the school has only raised about $130,000 to date.
Luiz said she is not worried about the tab.
Said Luiz, "We don't have to pay all the bills the day of the event. This is not quite like a wedding."