The Daikin Festival has become an indelible part of Decatur’s event calendar, having grown tremendously since it started in Daikin America’s parking lot in 1994 with 500 attendees.
In 2003, in need of more space, it moved to the Morgan County Fairgrounds. But with the sale of the fairgrounds to a developer last year, the Daikin Festival needed a new home.
It has found one at Point Mallard Park, which will be the site of the 2020 Daikin Festival. The change in venue, however, necessitates a change in date.
Previously, the festival was part of Decatur’s full slate of Memorial Day weekend activities. But Point Mallard is already the site of that weekend’s Alabama Jubilee Hot Air Balloon Classic, an event with even more tradition in Decatur. The first Alabama Jubilee was held in 1978.
So, the Daikin Festival this year will take place three weeks early, on May 1.
From its new date, the Daikin Festival, which organizers expect 20,000 people will attend this year, serves as a new, unofficial kickoff to summer in the area. It’s followed by the Dragon Boat Festival on May 9, and the Alabama Jubilee and opening of the Point Mallard water park on Memorial Day weekend.
“We tied the festival to Memorial Day for many years because we wanted a set date and time that people could remember,” said Forrest Keith, general affairs and training manager at Daikin America. “A lot of people said they wished we could do this on a Friday evening that was not a holiday weekend, so we started looking for a date from the middle of April through July.”
Daikin selected May 1 to avoid conflicts with high school graduations, final exams and vacations.
A cynic could simply chalk the Daikin Festival up to good public relations for a company that sometimes could use some. Daikin America has been the target of multiple lawsuits related to chemical contamination. In 2018, Daikin settled for $4 million a lawsuit filed by the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority. Daikin remains a party, along with 3M and the city of Decatur, in a second lawsuit over the same chemicals: polyfluoroalkyl substances that were once key to Decatur’s riverfront industries.
But the Daikin Festival predates that controversy, and its value goes well beyond good PR for Daikin America.
The Daikin Festival brings a taste of Japanese culture to an area where knowing about Japan is becoming more important by the day. Daikin was one of the first Japanese companies to find a home in the Decatur area. It has been since joined by Toray Industries, which makes primarily carbon fiber products used in everything from golf clubs to airplane wings.
The largest investment in the area from a Japanese company, however, is the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA plant under construction in Limestone County. The plant is a joint venture of two of Japan’s major automakers, Toyota and Mazda.
We live in a globalized economy, in which companies headquartered in one country, manufacture products in another country, built with materials from still other countries, for sale in yet other countries.
Nothing tears down walls more effectively than trade.
But cultural barriers and misunderstandings can remain, which is why cultural events like the Daikin Festival are important. Yes, it’s free food and music, and it’s good publicity for Daikin, but it’s a learning experience for everyone involved.
It’s good that it looks like the Daikin Festival has a new home and appears to be here for the long haul.