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Driving forceCarlisle Events' growth reflects 38 years of dreaming

By - Last modified: September 21, 2012 at 6:43 AM
Bill Miller Jr., co-founder of Carlisle Events, has ushered in the first significant expansion of the Cumberland County car show business in the last decade. Miller and the company also have become pillars in the Carlisle community with their nonprofit involvement and the planned redevelopment of the former IAC automotive parts factory. Here, Miller shows off his 1954 Kaiser-Darrin, a car produced to compete with the Corvette. Photo/Jim T. Ryan
Bill Miller Jr., co-founder of Carlisle Events, has ushered in the first significant expansion of the Cumberland County car show business in the last decade. Miller and the company also have become pillars in the Carlisle community with their nonprofit involvement and the planned redevelopment of the former IAC automotive parts factory. Here, Miller shows off his 1954 Kaiser-Darrin, a car produced to compete with the Corvette. Photo/Jim T. Ryan

Bill Miller Jr. wouldn't be surprised if you tapped one of his veins and got some kind of petroleum product.

"I've got cars in my blood," said Miller, co-founder of Cumberland County's well-known car show company Carlisle Events.

However, the man is anything but cold, and Carlisle Events' expansion as a business and community pillar through the decades proves it, local leaders say.

In 38 years, Carlisle Events has gone from the dream of two men running part-time car shows to a nationally and internationally known business for automobile enthusiasts.

Two friends, one show and just $1,000 was all there was at the start in 1974.

Today, the dream has grown into 30 employees, dozens of volunteers, 15 shows, nearly 500,000 visitors to the midstate each year and about $100 million in annual commerce for the local economy.

And Carlisle Events has expanded beyond the midstate, adding shows in Bloomsburg and Allentown, as well as Florida. And it's still growing, with the addition of a non-auto outdoor recreation show next year, Miller said.

"Many of (these expansions) came together all at one time, and we just sort of had to make them happen," Miller said.

As Carlisle Events grew, it also became an integral part of the regional community.

In 2010, the company acquired the 48 acres of the former IAC automotive components factory and today plans to redevelop the main half into new businesses and residences.

"They have a major community impact outside the car shows," said Perry Heath, president of Carlisle Borough Council.

The borough and the Cumberland Area Economic Development Corp. had been involved with the IAC property since the company decided to close it in 2008. The groups were searching for possible reuse as a manufacturing facility, but the recession kept investors at bay.

Carlisle Events started looking at buying the property to continue using the parking lots for shows, Miller said.

"They say necessity is the mother of all invention," Miller said. "We've parked on that property for 25 years."

The company didn't like the prospect of losing the parking. If no one else was going to buy the property, they felt they should step up, he said.

"The sad part was that along with the parking lot came a million square feet of buildings," he said.

Carlisle Events first considered using the IAC buildings as a convention center, but it became evident after the first electric bill of $90,000 the idea wouldn't work, Miller said.

That's when redevelopment prospects were born. Carlisle Events is proposing a boutique hotel, restaurants, townhouse apartments and shops on the property. It's a big step for the events company.

"Believe me, we've learned a lot. Development is not something we ever gave a thought to," Miller said.

The company is close to finalizing a deal for the hotel, and several restaurants are lined up, he said. He declined to say which companies would come to the location on Spring Road. Construction could begin in the spring. Demolition and cleanup could be complete by February, he said.

"We're looking to turn it into something a little more high-end," Miller said.

Carlisle rezoned the properties to commercial from industrial so that redevelopment could begin soon. It's also prepared to give the site a Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance designation that would reduce property taxes and scale them back in over five years, Heath said. The borough last week asked Cumberland County to approve LERTA for the property.

"Frankly, we're very happy that Carlisle Events is the owner and developer, because they're local guys and care about the community," Heath said. "It's not like they're in it to make a quick buck and leave us."

The company is a good business and community partner, said Michelle Crowley, president of the Greater Carlisle Area Chamber of Commerce.

"It wasn't all that long ago that the people of Carlisle didn't have an understanding and appreciation of what (Carlisle Events) meant to the community," she said.

Residents saw the traffic and the throngs of people and regarded the shows as a nuisance at times. But today, as Carlisle Events' involvement in the community grows, so does the appreciation, she said.

"They're a good community partner when you call," Crowley said. "They at least consider it before giving you an out-and-out no. That's a rarity today."

Carlisle Events is growing together with its community, Miller said.

"We've been here almost 40 years," he said. "Even though we're only open about 40-some days a year, we're kind of in your face with the traffic and everything else that goes on in the community. … It makes us feel good that it's helping the community as well as it's making Carlisle Events grow."

About Carlisle Events

Carlisle Events doesn’t just clog Cumberland County’s roads with cars.

Its staff and leadership are highly involved with their community, such as helping the United Way of Carlisle & Cumberland County, the Greater Carlisle Area Chamber of Commerce and other organizations.

Carlisle Events co-founder Bill Miller Jr. is on the boards of the Salvation Army of the Greater Carlisle Area, the Church of God Home, the Orrstown Bank advisory board and the Chip Miller Charitable Foundation.

The group is named for Bill’s friend and business partner Elliott “Chip” Miller, who died in 2004 of amyloidosis, a rare disease that causes the buildup of proteins in the organs.

Jim T. Ryan

Jim T. Ryan

Jim T. Ryan covers Cumberland County, manufacturing, distribution, transportation and logistics. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at jimr@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @JimTRyanCPBJ.

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