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MCW interviews new Cal Expo head Rick Pickering

2/25/2013

By John Owens

Photo courtesy of Cal Expo

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"Success comes from helping other people" is more than just a quote from Rick Pickering, the new Chief Executive Officer of the California State Fair.  It is a philosophy that shapes his life.  He not only uses the quote but lives by it.
 
On Dec 28, 2012 the beginning of a new era for the California State Fair (Cal Expo) began as Rick Pickering took office as CEO.  He was brought in after a 15 year run as CEO of the Alameda County Fair, only 98 miles away. He was instrumental in taking a fair that was on the verge of closing to one of the fastest growing in California.  That fair hosted over 535,000 attendees in 2012, up 18% from the prior year.  Pickering also grew facility usage to over three million people in 2012.

When asked how he accomplished the dramatic increase in attendance, he ansPhoto By Cal Expowered "by getting in touch with your market". He is planning on using the same formula in his new position at Cal Expo.  The State Fair has lost 400,000 guests over the past few years and was down some 6% last year. An event that used to attract well over one million people had just 691,000 attendees in 2012.  Pickering said he wants to "look first at local, then regional markets" before reaching out to the entire State of California.  He wants to rebuild the local market then work geographically outward to the regional areas. Mr. Pickering plans on building fair "content" that attracts the various markets he wants at the fair. 

The theme for the 2013 fair, which runs July 12 - July 27, is "Food, Family, Fun".  Marketing efforts will focus more on social media. The event will have a new Social Media Learning Center which they believe will have wide-spread appeal. The fair is going to begin a new feature, "Laundry Blue Ribbon Mommy,s Program" targeting that coveted mother demographic..  Pickering also said that the fair has already bought most of its headline entertainment for 2013 which increase from 8-9 concerts in 2012 to 17 concerts this year. Pickering said that will represent one new concert act daily. 

The carnival providing the midway for Cal Expo is Butler Amusements which has been there for several years. 

Asked why he likes the fair industry so much, he responded because "fairs create better communities".. 

Pickering is very proud of his three boys aged 25 (US Army just returned from the Middle East), 23 (an MBA candidate) and a 19 year old who hopes to go to Rick's alma mater, the University of Southern California, for Music Business. They are all Eagle Scouts because of some fantastic support and effort from a very special person. "They have a great Mom!  She's a high school teacher and head of the Bible Department at Valley Christian High School", said Pickering.

His achievements are impressive: President, Board of Directors San Francisco Bay Area Council; Past President Western Fairs Association; Past President California Authority of Racing Fairs; Past President of California fairs Services Authority; Chairman, Board of Directors California Fairs Alliance; CEO Alameda County Fairgrounds; Deputy General Manager Orange County Fairgrounds, 32nd District Agricultural Association & Executive Assistant City Manager City of Costa Mesa he was the liaison between the City of Costa Mesa and the Orange County Fair where he made the transition into the Fair Industry.  He and IAFE President Jim Tucker visited Korea in 2011, representing the Fair industry. 

Pickering was just inducted into the Western Fairs Association Hall of Fame at the 2013 convention in Reno, NV.  Each year the Hall of Fame Board of Governors reviews nominations from the United States and Canada, and select an individual for induction into the WFA Hall of Fame. Criteria for selection are significant leadership and long term contributions to enhance the professionalism of the industry as a whole.

Other rewards he has received include:;  WFA - Merrill Award 2010; WFA - Blue Ribbon Award 2010; WFA - Merrill Award 2008, CFE Certification 2010 - International Association of Fairs & Events.

The award he is most proud of however is the National Distinguished Eagle Scout Award 2010. According to Pickering, this award is only given after recommendations from a very distinguished group of VIPs.  Only 1 in 1,000 Eagle Scouts are presented with this national recognition, awarded for distinguished service in his profession and to his community for a period of at least 25 years.

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