Follies should look to grow with ConAgra, HAPO's help

ConAgra Foods Lamb Weston's continued support of the Water Follies shows the company's commitment to the community.

That's a relief.

As every economic development official knows, retaining and growing existing businesses is a key part of a community's success.

HAPO Community Credit Union also stepped up, again, to sponsor the Over the River Air Show, giving another event that had a tenuous future the opportunity to grow.

The aerial exhibition is a crowd favorite, making the long waits between heats something to enjoy, rather than endure.

HAPO's contribution to the Tri-Cities' signature event deserves applause. But no one ever has worried about the homegrown credit union's staying power.

On the other hand, only a few years ago we were wondering if ConAgra would move its headquarters out of town and out of the state.

Around the same time, the Water Follies also was looking at an uncertain fate. Without a title sponsor, its financial forecast was gloomy.

But a marriage between the two since 2007 has proved beneficial for ConAgra and the festival and has put the Water Follies on much more solid financial ground.

When ConAgra picked up the title sponsorship, organizers deemed that support "essential to the continuation of the Water Follies."

ConAgra further cemented its roots in the Tri-Cities with plans for a new Lamb Weston headquarters near Columbia Point in Richland.

Though that facility has been slow to come to fruition with prolonged negotiations with the city of Richland, the city council approved leases for two lots of an old city-owned landfill to be developed as a community park and a parking lot by the company.

With the sponsorship of the Water Follies renewed for two more years, Lamb Weston is sure to make a splash in the community as it moves forward with its corporate headquarters.

As part of the Water Follies promotion, the company has garnered lots of positive publicity and good will with its Free Fries Fryday event, kicking off boat race weekend.

Hungry boat race fans can get free french fries at participating local restaurants and Lamb Weston donates 10 cents to Second Harvest for every order of fries given away. The company also donated a dollar for every new Facebook fan for the promotion, which is a savvy social marketing move on the agricultural giant's part, capturing an audience to promote its products year-round. The total donation to Second Harvest was more than $6,000 in 2010.

The Water Follies and Columbia Cup hydroplane races are a great asset to our community, drawing in valuable tourism dollars and continuing a long-held tradition the last weekend of July each year.

We are hoping the consistent infusion of sponsorship money will help the event evolve.

While we are fans of the Water Follies, we would like to see some new events added now that the festival has its finances straightened out.

Organizers talked about growth and expansion with the announcement of the renewed sponsorships, and we would like to hear more about those plans.

Tradition is great, but adding some new things to the mix is a sure way to liven up interest in the event.