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IAFE Convention -- Final Day
By Ron Weber
Las Vegas - Calling it a "fabulous" convention and trade show, outgoing IAFE Chairman Jerry Hammer, manager of the Minnesota State Fair, said though attendance was slightly down the event was a big success. Hammer cited a quality program, excellent participation from exhibitors and the willingness of members to assist in every way possible as reasons for the event's success. "We are people who put on events and the convention itself is an event" said Hammer, so "people are willing to step forward and help".
During Hammer's tenure as chairman, he encouraged additional activity from the organization's committees and endeavored to get more people involved in the organization. Hammer said there is willingness among fair professionals to present programs at the convention and help with logistics and planning. Best of all, they need minimal instruction because they are all event professionals.
Thursday morning, November 29th Rick Frenette, First Vice-Chairman and manager of the Utah State Fair assumed the Chairman's duties. Frenette said he is already putting together another "Best Practices" program with the Outdoor Amusement Business Association (OABA) and is formulating a similar program with NICA. One challenge Frenette faces upon taking office is getting word out about the date changes for the convention in 2008. The convention will be Dec. 15 - 18 next year, several weeks later than normal. Frenette said that due to ownership changes with the Paris and staff changes at the hotel, the scheduling had "fallen through the cracks" and the IAFE was left with the later dates. Frenette said some were responding positively to the date changes, one vendor even planned to stay for the Christmas holiday next year.
One of the biggest managerial changes in the industry is Mike Froehlich moving from the Georgia National Fair to the York Fair beginning Jan. 1. Froehlich was with the Ohio State Fair for 13 years as assistant GM and General Manager before taking the manager's job at the Georgia National Fair for 16 years.
Looking back on his accomplishments at the GNF, Froehlich said he joined the fair when it was just a couple of years old and the first fair built from scratch in many years. He took attendance from 270,000 to 443,000, placing it on the MCW Top 50 fair list the past two years. Staff development is also an achievement he is proud of. He used his experience with the Ohio State Fair to build a strong team in Perry and leaves the event with capable people in his place. Board members from the GNF said a search was ongoing for Froehlich's replacement.
Froehlich will be taking the helm of the York Fair, the #32 fair in America as ranked by attendance. Board member Leon Butler said the fair is the 1st and oldest fair in the US, having been founded in 1765. Surprisingly, Froehlich will be the first-ever professional manager for the event. Butler said the growing event "demands a full-time person". Recently the fair built the Toyota arena, a 114,000 sq. ft. building at a cost of over $12 million.
Froehlich said he was "excited about the great opportunity he has in York". He said the county of 400,000+ was one of the fastest growing communities in the US and quickly becoming a commuter area for the City Of Baltimore. Froehlich hopes to bring his 29 years of experience to York to help grow and strengthen an already established event.
Bill Carpenter of Midway Caravan, Inc., producers of the popular Backyard Circus attraction, was very pleased with traffic at the trade show. Carpenter said the company has "mostly repeat business from our 50-60 annual fairs".
At the show, Carpenter signed a Fourth Of July date in Kansas City and is picking up theme park business with Paramount Parks. He is also exploring a relationship with a park in Georgia and another in South Korea.
Midway Caravan, in addition to the flagship Backyard Circus, offers a Family Puppet Parade, story wagons and other customized family entertainment for fairs and events. Their season begins in March and closes at the Texas State Fair in October.
Carpenter will be attending the fair conventions in NY, the Western Fairs convention and he recently attended Canada's CAFE convention where he presented a talk on the future of the fair industry. Subtitled "Beyond the Carnival" Carpenter's talk focused on bringing a greater sense of celebration to events. "Carnivals have raised the bar for intensity of experience", he said. "It is the fair's job to bring the same intensity of experience to every part of the fair", he added.
Michael Prata of Pyrotechnico was another vendor satisfied with the trade show. Prata said the show was "excellent" for his company, garnering many leads and contacts. "We had the opportunity to meet vendors who want special effects, fireworks and low ground fog confetti for their events", he said.
Pyrotechnico has a 118-year history beginning with the founding Vitale family, producing shows for 40 - 50 fair each year. Most displays last 5 to 15 minutes.
Pyrotechnico is opening an office in Las Vegas that will host their special effects division. This office will handle concerts, touring shows and special entertainment effects throughout the country.
Prata said their presence at the convention accomplished the company's twin goals of getting their name out for aerial and close proximity shows to fairs and making contacts for concert and special event promoters for special effects presentations.
With thirteen large aisles of vendors and exhibitors, the IAFE Trade Show had plenty to offer fair and event professionals. The moving of the dates next year and its impact on attendance, positive or negative, will be something to watch.