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From Legal Marijuana to Replacing Executive Director, New WFA President Faces a Range of Issues

5/5/2017

By Timothy Herrick

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Fairs, festivals and an emphasis that the fairgrounds serve the needs of their communities are central priorities for the new president of the Western Fair Association (WFA), Joe Anderson.


Anderson first started working fairs right out of high school, at 18 years of age, and for the past 18 years has been at his current position, CEO of the Napa Valley Exposition. 


Previous to joining the fair industry, "I worked for Napa Valley Unified School District, and I also worked for an event company called Taurus Productions. When Taurus Productions closed their doors, I was looking for a stage manager position, and they happened to have an opening at the fair in Napa.  When I first started working, all I did was entertainment booking, stages and exhibits. Then I started taking in more of each department until I became the Deputy General Manager."


Now as CEO,  Anderson manages two Napa Valley Expo events of significant size, the annual Napa Town & Country fair and one has become one of the largest music festivals in California,  BottleRock Napa Valley. This 2-day festival featured Stevie Wonder and Red Hot Chili Peppers in 2016.


In an interview with Carnival Warehouse, Anderson touched on many subjects, including the hot-button issues of H-2B visas, fair funding and marijuana legalization in California. 


The fair veteran keeps things close to the vest, often avoiding the details on which the success or failure of these association initiatives depend. What is most apparent is the role he sees fairs play in both his home-state and throughout the country. "We're all looking for ways to continue providing the services our communities have come to rightfully expect from us," he said.


Founded in 1922, WFA has more than 800 members, representing fairs and festivals, and all fair-related businesses, serving the fair industry throughout the western United States and Canada, although the vast majority of the fairs are in California and Golden State issues tend to dominate much of the association's agenda. According to its website, the "primary objective of Western Fairs Association is to promote the prosperity of fairs through educational activities, training programs and legislative advocacy."


Anderson has long been a proponent of the WFA. In a Meet The President statement issued by the WFA, Anderson wrote: "I became involved with leadership at WFA because it's important to our industry that we are able to help people step up and help out in order to keep us moving. Not everyone really wants to do that, but I got asked and I was very interested in it. And I love the fair industry. By stressing the importance of WFA and motivating people to get involved, we can continue to be there to support our members as much as we can as we work through the issues facing our industry together."



Carnival Warehouse: What issue are you most concerned as President of the Western Fair Association in 2017?


Joe Anderson: There are 3 major issues on our plate for 2017: (1) The WFA transition, as we are on a search to hire a new executive director. Stephen Chambers will be retiring after 30 great years as the leader of our company. It will be a challenge to find someone who is as good as Stephen and has the years of institutional knowledge in the industry. We are pleased to have just contracted with Ralph Andersen & Associates to begin the process. (2) Working through legislation to secure a stable funding source for our California Fair partners and (3) Dramatically increasing ride inspection fees and the H-2B program which allows U.S. employers or U.S. agents who meet specific regulatory requirements to bring foreign nationals to the United States to fill temporary non-agricultural jobs. This is of particular interest to our service members.



JA: How is the WFA working towards positive H-2B legislation.


CW: We're very fortunate to have Chris Lopez of RCS as the Carnival Division Chairman on our Service Member Board, and we've been working closely with him to see how WFA can best support our members as we work through this challenge together.



CW: Did Western fairs have a good year in 2016?


JA: It was a very good year for our members and a great year for our convention. It was one of the strongest and best attended in a long time.



CW: What are some issues that will have the biggest impact on next year's fair season?


JA: The passage of Prop 64, in California, the Marijuana Legalization Initiative, legalizes marijuana under state law, for use by adults 21 or older. It Imposes state taxes on the sales and cultivation. Provides for industry licensing and establishes standards for marijuana products. Allows local regulation and taxation. Affects range from shows on fairgrounds, use of the product in public spaces, sales etc. California's adoption brings us to four member states with legalized marijuana.



CW: What was the attitude of WFA convention attendees this year?


JA: Very positive feedback from attendees. Lots of great sessions, some were actually too good as rooms overflowed with attendees. 



CW: What problems are affecting fairs in all of the states represented by the WFA? 


JA: Funding seems to be the story across the board. Some states are receiving new funding while others are fighting for the same outcome. Regardless of state funding, we're all looking for ways to continue providing the services our communities have come to rightfully expect from us.



CW: Is the California drought officially over and what will be its continuing impact on California fairs?


JA: Following unprecedented water conservation and plentiful winter rain and snow, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. on April 7, 2017 ended the drought state of emergency in most of California, while maintaining water reporting requirements and prohibitions on wasteful practices, such as watering during or right after rainfall. "This drought emergency is over, but the next drought could be around the corner," said Governor Brown. "Conservation must remain a way of life." Executive Order B-40-17 lifts the drought emergency in all California counties except Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Tuolumne, where emergency drinking water projects will continue to help address diminished groundwater supplies.  The April 7, 2017 order also rescinds two emergency proclamations from January and April 2014 and four drought-related executive orders issued in 2014 and 2015. Executive Order B-40-17 builds on actions taken in Executive Order B-37-16, which remains in effect, to continue making water conservation a way of life in California:



CW: How is the economy in the West? Are people spending, and is consumer confidence up or down? 


JA: 2016 was pretty strong, and I've been involved with two fairs so far in 2017 -Colorado River County Fair and the California Mid-Winter Fair & Fiesta - and they were good.



CW: Is the economy recovering or is there still a long way to go? 


JA: Many rural areas are recovering slowly, and the end of the drought should help.



CW: What trends among WFA fairs are you watching for in 2017?


JA: Through my interactions with various fairs this year, I've noticed a trend among marketing campaigns: a push to have communities take ownership of their fair. There were several fairs with variations of the theme 'It's Your Fair,' and I love this for two reasons. First, we're inviting our communities to join in on the fun and providing them with an opportunity to get involved. Second, it demonstrates the power of language. By changing our language from 'come visit the fair' to 'come visit your fair', we are delivering a compelling message to the community that supports us.



CW: How are fairs changing with the times? 


JA: There's really only one essential component to any fair, and that is the unique relationship that we have with our communities. To that end, fairs will continue to evolve to meet the needs of our communities. In recent years, fairgrounds have served as evacuation centers during emergencies. We've also hosted music festivals and 4-H auctions and Bingo nights. Fairs serve as a community gathering place, and it is our responsibility to continue to provide that service into the future.



CW: What has been the biggest - and most unexpected - change that you've seen in the fair industry? 


JA: Personally, when I started at the Napa Valley Exposition when I was 18, I never would have imagined hosting an event the size of BottleRock Napa Valley.



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