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Mardi Gras Helps Fatten New Orleans Businesses
The Associated Press | February 21, 2012 | 01:56 PM EST

New Orleans – As Carnival builds toward the out-of-control crescendo of Fat Tuesday, Barry Kern and his team of float-builders and artists are already preparing for next year.One of the biggest free parties in the world fuels a multimillion-dollar industry for the city of New Orleans and is the lifeblood of businesses like Kern's studio, which has been operating for more than 50 years and makes or repurposes some 400 floats a year, or roughly a float a day, Kern said.

Mardi Gras season, which includes weeks of parades, fancy balls and parties leading up to Fat Tuesday, draws hundreds of thousands of visitors to New Orleans each year, says Kelly Schulz, spokeswoman for the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau. Schulz said a recent study conducted by Tulane University estimated the direct economic impact of Mardi Gras at roughly $144 million.

Some studies estimate the economic impact at more than $500 million, said Arthur Hardy, a Mardi Gras historian.

"There's no way to know for sure because we don't sell tickets," Hardy said. "Mardi Gras started small, in private homes and private balls, and it's evolved into this festival that some estimate produces more than a half-billion dollars a year."

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