Neal Robertson sits in The New T&B Classic Cuts Barbershop on 18th and Muhammad Ali in Louisville. He’s in a exuberant mood — singing and joking with passersby, customers and the barbers there.
But his mood quickly shifts when he starts talking about the National Rifle Association.
Robertson, 53, is president of the West Louisville Urban Coalition, a group of organizations working to improve the neighborhoods west of Ninth Street. He says he’s concerned about the NRA’s annual meeting in Louisville.
“My thoughts on the NRA coming to town — who has a problem with gun violence — is it’s very bad for our community,” he says, referring to a historic spike in homicides and shootings in Louisville this year.
In the first quarter of 2016, homicides are up 44 percent over the same period last year, according to data from Louisville Metro Police. Shootings are up 39 percent over last year.
The West Louisville barbershop is about six miles from the Kentucky Exposition Center, where the NRA convention is being held. And that proximity is important for economic reasons, too.
The NRA is controversial, but along with controversy comes money — big money. And their stop in Louisville is no exception. More than 70,000 people are expected to attend this weekend’s convention.
According to the Louisville Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, the estimated economic impact of the NRA conference is $53 million. Cleo Battle, executive vice president of the CVB, says economic impact is a major factor in considering what events they try to lure to Louisville.
Economic impact includes the direct spending visitors make when they’re here. That might include hotels, taxis and souvenirs. Impact also includes business-to-business goods and services, such as more labor or merchandise for a major event like the NRA. And it includes workers who will see a boost in wages from working during the event, who then might turn around and spend that money locally.
But even an educated estimate is hard to pin down, according to Janet Kelly, executive director of the Urban Studies Institute at the University of Louisville. Still, Kelly says, economic boosts can apply to the city at-large — across classes and businesses.
“I know that it’s awfully hard to judge economic impact,” Kelly says. “And there’s a tendency to overstate them because many times we count all economic transactions as having an economic impact.”
Robertson, the West Louisville resident, doesn’t buy that the wealth will spread, so to speak, from the NRA conference citywide.
“Ma’am, I’m guaranteeing you that not one red cent will make it to West Louisville,” he says.