Rose Parade keeps running, despite economic downturn

Forty-six flower-covered floats are moving into place for tomorrow's 120th Tournament of Roses parade in Pasadena. When the economy is far from rosy, can those who build the floats stay afloat? KPCC's Brian Watt went asking.

Brian Watt: The budgets for the floats in this Rose Parade were done 10 months ago. So, on the sprawling floor at the Fiesta Parade Floats workshop in Irwindale, volunteers trim thousand of fresh roses. Staffers build scaffolds to the ceiling, so decorators can put finishing touches high up on floats that are just as audacious as any other year.

Sue Sundberg: The mother zebra's head moves. Both elephants' heads move. It has four waterfalls, which will be operating.

Watt: Sue Sundberg supervises the decoration of the float from Rain Bird, the irrigation company based in Azusa. This is part-time, seasonal work for her. She's a full time nurse who decorates floats more for the artistry than for the wages.

She started years ago as a volunteer with her daughter's Girl Scout troop. There are plenty of volunteers helping out this year – but Sundberg knows of some the tough economy has kept away.

Sundberg: People that would come here volunteer are not able to come here because they have a job, and they really can't afford to come and to do this, this year.

Watt: What about next year? The safari-themed float Sundberg's decorating is the 13th that the Rain Bird has sponsored in the Rose Parade. Seven have won the coveted "Sweepstakes Trophy." Rain Bird's Will Ostedt says there will be a 14th.

Will Ostedt: On the grand scheme of things, a Rose Parade float doesn't cost nearly as much as a national advertising campaign. It's a great community building event on an international stage.

It's something for the company to rally around. And from a budget standpoint, it's not really something that comes into play for Rain Bird.
Watt: And you'll be back next year?
Ostedt: Absolutely.

Watt: Some Rose Parade floats cost as much as $300,000. In his office off the decorating floor, Fiesta Parade Floats President Tim Estes says sales for next year's Rose Parade start up in two months, and he's optimistic that, like Rain Bird, most of his 12 clients from this year will come back.

Tim Estes: The Rose Parade has been around for over 120 years, and you know, I don't see it slowing down. I'm not knocking how the economy is right now, everything is gonna be tightening up. But right now people need something good, something positive, and the Rose Parade delivers that.

Watt: And, Estes says, it delivers up to six dollars in advertising value for every one dollar a sponsor spends on a float. Larry Crane owns the smaller Charisma Floats right next door to Fiesta. He likes to compare the Rose Parade to the Super Bowl.

Larry Crane: Super Bowl half minute last year was like $2.8 million just for the time – 30 seconds. That's not counting the cost of the commercial. You're seen a lot more than 30 seconds in this parade and our viewing audience isn't too far off from what the Super Bowl is.

Watt: Still, float builder Larry Crane says he's concerned that clients might cut back for next year's parade. His company is building two floats this go-round.

One is for the West Covina Rose Float Foundation. It's the 11th year that a West Covina float has appeared in the Rose Parade. Chris Freeland, who works in the city manager's office, says a few years ago, the Foundation took over all the fundraising for the float.

Chris Freeland: So the city of West Covina benefits from that – donations that they receive from residents, and business owners of our community and the surrounding valley. So without their contributions, this float wouldn't be possible.

So whenever the economy is hurting them, it makes it more difficult for them contributions to us, and of course that's gonna hurt our bottom line as well.

Watt: But the Foundation says the float is a source of community pride and involvement – and scholarship money for some students. So it plans to do it all it can to make sure a rough economy doesn't rain on next year's parade.