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Lancaster Event Center has $40 million economic impact annually, report finds

The Lancaster Event Center, with horse shows, farm shows, bull rides, dog shows, car shows, antique shows, Lego shows, the mother of all garage sales and more, adds about $40 million to the local economy.

What that means is, if the Event Center did not exist, Lincoln would have $40 million less in economic activity each year, said Amy Dickerson, the Event Center's managing director. 

The figure comes from an economic impact study completed by Eric Thompson, director of the Bureau of Business Research at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

There would be 531 fewer jobs. Local governments would get $1.3 million less in taxes, she said. 

This is the first economic impact study on the Event Center in its 17-year history, and is based in part on surveys with more than 800 people, including people who compete at the center, sell items there and watch events, Dickerson said.

Thompson presented an executive summary of the 2017 economic impact study to a joint meeting of the Lancaster County Ag Society and the Lancaster County Board last Thursday. The full report will be available near the end of the month.

Thompson was very conservative in the analysis, Dickerson said. He discounted most of the impact from county residents attending events because they may have spent that money on entertainment elsewhere in the county. The analysis excludes the more than 130,700 people who attended the Lancaster County Super Fair in 2017.

"I feel very confident that, if anything, the number is higher,” Dickerson said.

The analysis is based on 339,068 spectator, competitor or vendor days at the 322 events held in 2017, not counting the Super Fair. 

It includes 207,378 spectators at 99 regional or national events, such as the Cornhusker Classic Quarter Horse Show, the fourth-largest quarter horse show in the country, and the Nebraska Power Farming Show, the second-largest farm show in the country. 

About 60 percent of the people attending those regional and national shows come from outside the county.

The Event Center had a $22.7 million direct economic impact, through money spent by spectators, competitors and vendors at motels, restaurants and other businesses, plus the money spent by the Event Center on operations and capital improvements last year. 

Thompson added another $16.7 million through the multiplier impact for the almost $40 million total.

Property taxpayers are getting their money's worth, Dickerson said.

The average county homeowner is paying about $7.66 a year in taxes to support the Event Center, based on the average $184,800 home.

About $5.09 of that is used to pay off the $20 million in bonds used to build the center. Another $2.57 goes to subsidize the annual Super Fair. Local taxpayers traditionally subsidize county fairs in the state.   

You can get that money back by using the plentiful free tickets to the Super Fair. There's a $5 parking fee, but a majority of what is happening is free, Dickerson said.  

The Event Center is preparing to host the National High School Finals Rodeo in 2020 and 2021, an event that will bring an estimated 50,000 visitors to Lincoln each of those years. 

Event Center improvements for the rodeo include a new 3,500-seat, covered grandstand and more than 1,000 additional campsites with electricity and water hookups. 

The center is also hoping for a third-phase expansion that would include an ag coliseum for about 5,000 people, another multi-purpose pavilion, improvements that would allow Lincoln to host more national shows, Dickerson said. 

Study: Air pollution shaving years from people's lives

WASHINGTON — People could add years to their lives in smog-plagued parts of the world if authorities could reduce particulate pollution — soot from cars and industry — to levels recommended by the World Health Organization, a new study reported Monday.

No other large U.S. city would benefit more than Fresno, Calif., which has soot concentrations at roughly twice the WHO guidelines. Fresno residents would live a year longer if the region could meet the health organization's recommended levels of exposure, according to Monday's study by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago.

The average Los Angeles resident could add eights months of life. The average Sacramento resident would add nearly three.

In recent weeks, millions of Californians have been choking on high levels of particulates, because of smoke from raging wildfires. This week's study doesn't account for that, but instead focuses on everyday levels of soot and fine particles, produced largely by vehicle exhaust and other burning of fossil fuels. Worldwide, this exposure reduces average life expectancy by 1.8 years, comparable to the impacts of smoking cigarettes, according to the study's authors.

"While people can stop smoking and take steps to protect themselves from diseases, there is little they can individually do to protect themselves from the air they breathe," said Michael Greenstone, an economics professor and director of the Energy Policy Institute.

The study demonstrates the health benefits worldwide of cleaning up the world's most smog-plagued regions, where an estimated 5.5 billion people live.

But cutting pollution to WHO-recommended levels will not be easy. In Fresno, a 50 percent reduction in particulates would require much more aggressive emissions controls on cars, trucks, agricultural equipment and oil and gas operations — regulations resisted by industries.

At issue is what is known as "particulate matter 2.5," or PM 2.5 — particles so fine they are just 3 percent the diameter of a human hair. Unlike larger particles, this type of air pollution can lodge deep in a person's respiratory system and contribute to lung disease, strokes, heart disease and other ailments.

In heavily populated countries such as India and China, auto emissions and smoke from coal and wood burning have created the highest concentrations of PM 2.5 on Earth. According to the Energy Policy Institute, people in India would live 4.3 years longer on average if that country could lower pollution to the WHO guidelines. People in China would live 2.9 years longer on average.

To estimate impacts on lifespan, the institute relied on a pair of peer-reviewed studies co-authored by Greenstone that quantify the relationship between particulate pollution and expected longevity. The institute used that data to develop what it calls an "Air Quality Life Index," so people can readily review the long-term health impacts of air pollution in different parts of the world.

Across the United States, cities and states have a strong record of reducing soot levels in the air, Monday's study notes. Between 1970 and 2016, particulate pollution declined by 62 percent nationwide, largely because of cleaner vehicles and new requirements for scrubbers and emissions controls on power plants and industries.

Migrants fearful, anxious in aftermath of Tijuana protests

TIJUANA, Mexico — Many Central American migrants camped in Tijuana after crossing Mexico in a caravan said Monday that a protest over the weekend by residents demanding they leave frightened them and left them even more anxious while they try to get into the United States.

The angry protests have been fed by concerns raised by President Donald Trump's month-long warnings that criminals and gang members are in the group and even terrorists, though there is no evidence of that.

About 500 people demonstrated in an affluent section of Tijuana on Sunday against the caravan. Dozens of protesters then marched to an outdoor sports complex near downtown where 2,500 migrants are staying, sleeping on dirt fields and under bleachers after arriving at the border city a week ago.

Dulce Alvarado, 28, from Lempira, Honduras, said she was stepping out of a corner grocery near the stadium carrying her 2-year-old son when she was surrounded by the demonstrators chanting "Get out!" and "We don't want you here!"

"I was very scared," Alvarado said.

A Tijuana police officer saw them in the crowd and helped them get out and behind police tape marking off the block where the sports complex is located. The protest eventually ended peacefully.

Tensions have built as nearly 3,000 migrants from the caravan poured into Tijuana in recent days after more than a month on the road — and with many more months likely ahead of them while they seek asylum in the U.S. The federal government estimates the number of migrants could soon swell to 10,000.

U.S. border inspectors are processing only about 100 asylum claims a day at Tijuana's main crossing to San Diego. Asylum-seekers register their names in a tattered notebook managed by the migrants themselves that had more than 3,000 names even before the caravan arrived.

For most of this city of 1.6 million, the arrival of thousands of Central Americans is not noticeable. Most migrants stay within a three-block radius of the sports complex that faces the towering metal walls topped with barbed wire at the U.S.-Mexico border.

But many residents fear with the passage of time their presence will take its toll and crime could go up. Since 2016, thousands of Haitians who also tried to get to the U.S. ended up settling here, while at the same time, Tijuana has taken in thousands of Mexicans deported from the United States.

Tijuana also has been struggling with drug violence and some say they do not want the caravan bringing more problems.

The United States has dramatically increased border security in preparation for the caravan's arrival, closing lanes at ports of entry to place cement barriers topped with razor wire that can be quickly moved to block passage should there be a mass number who try to force their way into the country.

But the lane closures have also made it harder for cross-border residents to go back and forth into the U.S. to work and shop. The San Ysidro port of entry is one of the world's busiest border crossings, with more than 40,000 vehicles and 34,000 pedestrians using it daily.

Monday, U.S. authorities closed off northbound traffic for several hours and closed a pedestrian lane at the crossing to install new security barriers, after a tip that people were gathering in Tijuana to rush the border checkpoints.

"Waiting until a large group of persons mass at the border to attempt an illegal crossing is too late for us," said Pete Flores, director of field operations for Customs and Border Protection in San Diego.

Meanwhile, legal groups argued Monday that a judge should prevent the Trump administration from enforcing its ban on asylum for anyone who illegally crosses the U.S.-Mexico border.

U.S. District Judge Jon S. Tigar did not immediately rule on whether to issue a temporary restraining order during a hearing in San Francisco. The request was made by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights, which quickly sued after  Trump issued the ban this month in response to the caravans of migrants that have started to arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Trump issued a proclamation Nov. 9 that said anyone who crossed the southern border would be ineligible for asylum. The regulations, which will remain in place for three months absent a court order, could potentially make it harder for thousands of people who enter the U.S. to avoid deportation.

"Individuals are entitled to asylum if they cross between ports of entry," said Baher Azmy, a lawyer for the Center for Constitutional Rights. "It couldn't be clearer."

In recent years, tens of thousands of immigrants each year have shown up in the Arizona desert or on the north bank of the Rio Grande in Texas, surrendered to immigration agents and requested asylum. The Department of Homeland Security estimates about 70,000 people a year claim asylum between official ports of entry.