The Mississippi State Fair has named a facilities management executive to take the helm of both its 12-day October state fair and its 105-acre Mississippi State Fairground complex.
Rick Reno, the new Executive Director of the Mississippi Fair Commission, has more than 40 years experience in facility and event management. Reno has earned the Certified Facilities Executive (CFE) designation from the International Association of Venue Managers (IAVM), and was with VenuWorks, that provides management, marketing, and booking services to more than 50 venues throughout the U.S. Reno has managed venues around the country, including facilities in Oregon, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Virginia. His most recent position was Executive Director of the United Wireless Arena in Dodge City, Kansas, a Venuworks facility.
Cindy Hyde-Smith, Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce said, that the Mississippi Fair Commission Board selected Reno after an extensive recruitment process. "Rick was impressive. We are excited that he is joining our excellent Fairgrounds staff to continue and expand upon our success at the State Fairgrounds. His vast experience and expertise in facility management will bring an added level of expertise to our agency and, in turn, help us build toward future success."
Hyde-Smith spoke with Carnivalwarehouse, emphasizing Reno's appointment is only the latest milestone in a growth phase for the fair. "We are adding more spaces. We have big plans for physical construction. Rick wasn't even able to move into his offices the first week on the job because we are building new ones. The morale among our staff is really high."
The Mississippi State Fairgrounds, located in Jackson, hosts the Mississippi State Fair, which begins the first Wednesday in October each year and runs for 12 days, attracting upwards of 700,00 and features a mile-long midway, free major entertainment, livestock shows, and 120,000 sq. ft.
One of the more successful year-round fairgrounds in the south, the Mississippi Fairgrounds Complex hosts more than 700-event days per year., including banquets, exhibitions, trade and consumer shows. The fairgrounds is home to the Mississippi Coliseum, the Mississippi Trade Mart and the Kirk Fordice Equine Center, and in addition to fair, its other large-scale event is the Dixie National Livestock Show and Rodeo.
Reno is well aware he comes to Mississippi at a time when support and enthusiasm for the fair is high and the fairgrounds are entering a growth stage. "The commissioner is a strong advocate for the state fair and the fair ground," said Reno. "There's $3 million being invested to make us ADA compliant and we are replacing restrooms and building a new stage and new offices. We want to revitalize the entire fairgrounds and we are looking forward to having a great fair with great attendance, then we will be able to go to back the state legislature and other stake holders and take the fairgrounds to next level."
Reno is replacing long standing Fair Commission Executive Director, Billy Orr, who has been with the fair for 27 years. Orr is working with Reno in the transition process and will remain on staff as the Public Relations Director for the Mississippi Fair Commission. "We appreciate all the hard work and success that Billy Orr has provided to the Fairgrounds and look forward to him continuing to assist the Fair Commission in the many outreach activities for Mississippi's citizens, agricultural organizations, and Fairgrounds patrons," said Hyde-Smith.
"In Mississippi, the state fair is really a big deal because we do not have a not a theme park," said Orr told Carnivalwarehouse. "People who want to go on rides and eat fair food and all the other things we offer, this is the only place can go."
Orr fist became involved with the fair since 1978, although he sought new ventures in 1998, including a stint running the Mid-South Fair in Memphis. He returned to the Magnolia State in 2006 , assuming the position of Executive Director. Orr echoes a deserved pride in the expansion of the fair during his tenure. "We expanded the fair, made the midways longer, a third longer, with no off shoots, lasts one mile, with a large Kiddy Land. We've also built a lot of new buildings. We made a lot of improvements."
Reno, who spoke with Carnivalwarehouse on his fifth-day on the job, admits he is still learning about the far and is well aware of the legacy he has inherited. "Mississippi has a great fair and unlike other major fairs, it's the fair itself that really draws people in," Reno said. "There is great work on the educational side, and one of the only opportunities for young people especially, to see what the agricultural industry has to offer. I'm all about that education and the culture of Mississippi the fair promotes."
However, Reno hopes one improvement can be adding more star attraction in the entertainment at the fair. "I am hoping to bring my expertise in booking to have major headliners play the fair," said Reno. "People in the concert business can see the business opportunity for this market at the fair and the fairground facilities throughout the year."
Facility management may dominate his resume, Reno said "I have significant fair experience." That experience includes the Lane County Fair in Oregon, which is held on the fairgrounds, also home to the Lane Event Center; the Crown Fair, which was in Fayetteville, N.C., held in the parking lot of the Crown Complex, which Reno managed; and the Ark-La-Miss Fair, held at another one of his facilities, the Monroe Civic Center in Monroe, Louisiana.
Reno said his experiences in Oregon made him well aware of the challenges faced by that State Fair – and by many fairs in the country – where the fair is profitable but during the rest of the year, the fairgrounds struggle for business. "There are other events that Mississippi State Fairgrounds attract, such as the Dixie National Rodeo and some high-profile exhibitions. But we are working with the CVB to attract more people and events here and we have the facilities."
The difference that Reno sees is that in Mississippi, Mississippians and their government truly support the property. "We have real advocates for the fairgrounds who know the economic impact we can have on this area."
With the hiring of an experienced venue manager with a strong background in talent booking and event management, Hyde-Smith has unabashedly taken a proactive stance towards the dual goals of expanding the appeal of the year-round fairgrounds and building on the success of the fair.
Hyde-Smith said the 2013 fair attendance was more than 700,000, up from about 649,000 high reached during previous years. "I want the fair to succeed and we've set our goals very high. We have gotten the attention of the young consumers, who have embraced the fair. We pray for good weather, but we have also used social media to get the word out about the fabulous food available, the rides, and update son the weather. We send out push notifications, we use a lot of social media."
Prior to being elected as Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce, Hyde-Smith served as state senator, serving on committees that govern the fair, fairgrounds and agricultural interests. "I am very committed to the state fair, it is part of our heritage in Mississippi. We have become more of a family event and we are building on that, where generations of families come here together. Last year, with all the increase in attendance, we did not have one security issue at all. "
One noteworthy innovation, introduced last year and due to be further improved this year, is the Mississippi State Fair app. "All our information is on the app. We have weather information, directors – really good direction to all the attractions, it really gets into specifics. We have a car finder. It's really a great tool for fairgoers."
Hyde-Smith is intent that Mississippi avoids the pitfall that has bedeviled many fairs in the U.S. in recent years – where the fair succeeds, but the fairgrounds become an economic drain on government. "The fairgrounds have to be self-sustaining," said Hyde-Smith. "We have a full calendar for the fairgrounds. We are enhancing what we are doing, expanding our facilities, adding more shows and capitalizing on the success we've had. Rick brings a lot to the table and he is walking into a good situation with the fair, which is grown and our numbers are up."