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Nebraska State Fair: Enthusiasm never dampened

10/8/2014

By Linda Van Slyke

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Patrons of the 2014 Nebraska State Fair experienced a "Bumper Crop of Fun," even though it rained seven out of the eleven days this year.

Shaun Schleif, Marketing and Sponsorship Director, conveyed these exact figures:  three-quarters of an inch of rain on August 22nd, even more than that on August 28th, plus severe weather calling for two-inch hail and 70 mile-an-hour winds on the prime Sunday of Labor Day weekend. 

Nevertheless, enthusiasm wasn't dampened.  Overall attendance topped out at 317,785 (down only 5.12% from 2013).  Considering Nature's challenges, Schleif and his dedicated team are "very happy with the results."

One interesting side effect of all this weather-related drama was the increase in fairgoers' appetites.  With rain comes cooler weather, and with cooler weather comes hearty hunger.

Schleif therefore explained, "Even with the decrease in attendance this year, many of our food vendors experienced over 25 percent increases in sales." 

Wade's World 
Schleif had nothing but praise for the Wade Shows carnival.  He stated, "Our partnership with them has been second to none.  We partnered with them in 2012 for the Sky Tram (which covers a distance of four football fields and extends 40 feet above the fairgrounds), and then for the midway in 2013 and 2014.  Wade Shows has always prided itself on being one step ahead.  They bring in rides you don't often see on carnivals, and their landscaped grounds are incredibly clean."   

History Comes Alive 
Schleif mentioned that "the Nebraska State Fair was actually in existence before Nebraska became a state.  We're talking a good long run here, considering that Nebraska became a state back in 1867." 

"Back in those early days, you didn't get an opportunity to see your neighbors much until the fair came around.  Farmers looked forward to that special time for getting together and sharing what was happening agriculturally.  They would travel to the fair on horseback or by buggy."

"Our core today remains very much committed to our agriculture and livestock shows, plus our domestic and competitive exhibits.  The undertow of our fair has always been for everyone to get together and show their products and goods."

Schleif continued, "One of our biggest accomplishments in 2014 has been the addition of our 5.8 million-dollar, 54,000 square-foot Nebraska Building. The Nebraska State Fair took it on without government funding. Administrative offices are on the second floor, and the first floor offers a great deal of agricultural education."

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln partnered with the Nebraska Department of Agriculture and the Nebraska State Fair to create a 25,000-foot exhibit on the first floor of the Nebraska Building titled "Raising Nebraska: Your Food and the Families Who Grow It."  This interactive exhibit takes visitors "from farm to fork," and includes such things as a "combine simulator, cooking demonstrations, and a model house."

Schleif also explained that "Nebraska Game and Parks had been part of the fair in Lincoln for many years.  When the fair moved to Grand Island, Nebraska Game and Parks didn't join it again until 2014.  This year it displayed all the great outdoor activities of Nebraska, including an archery shooting range, a 6,500-gallon aquarium filled with Nebraska fish, and an outdoor play area for kids."

Living history was also featured at the fair's Stuhr Museum.  The website explains that this museum "brings the story of Nebraska's first towns to life, featuring dozens of hands-on historical and artistic activities... including antique farm machinery displays."

Nuts and Bolts
Putting together a fair that "has won in practically every IAFE category during the last five years" takes a tremendous amount of dedication and... money.  Schleif said that the fair's total budget this year was "between five and six million dollars."

Schleif further explained, "In 2004, voters decided that the Nebraska State Fair would receive 10 percent of lottery proceeds each year, which comes to between three and four million dollars per year.  We also have vendors in our Expo Center that help with the bottom line."

Of course, the admission fees are also part of that bottom-line intake.  Schleif stated that things "really haven't changed since last year with regard to admission costs.  It's always been our goal to create an event that's good for everyone, regardless of socio-economic background."

The fair charged the following 2014 admission fees:  Advance Adult Gate - $7, Adult Daily Gate Ticket (13 years & older) - $10, Five Dollar Days (Adults on Monday, August 25 and Wednesday, August 27), Two Dollar Tuesday (Adult and Child Gate Admission), Season Admission Pass (One Person for All Eleven Days), and Children's Gate Admission (6 to 12 years) $3. 

Schleif pointed out that these fees included many fine stage shows and ground acts.  He described a number of them, such as "a percussion group that drew great crowds throughout the fairgrounds, elephants that participated in the parade as well, a wolf show that explained their natural habitats, plus all things lumberjack."

Extra fees included $20 for the Terry Fator concert, $30 for the Brantly Gilbert concert, and $6 each for the following shows:  Chris Young, Styx, B. J. Thomas, Michael W. Smith, and Karmin.

Schleif explained that these extras helped to cover some of the "hard costs" of producing the concerts.  

Schleif concluded, "The non-profit agricultural organization that runs our fair has both a five- year plan and a ten-year plan.  In the future, we will need a new equine facility, an outdoor arena, and some TLC (such as roadways and grassy areas) for our East Entertainment Area.  However, all of this won't necessarily occur by 2015!"  

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