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New State Fair of Virginia Director Ready to Grow

1/12/2015

By Timothy Herrick

Photo courtesy of Browns Photography

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After a quarter of a century at the West Virginia State Fair, Marlene Pierson-Jolliffe  is crossing state lines to take charge of the State Fair of Virginia. Pierson-Jolliffee is  the new vice president of operations for Commonwealth Fairs & Events Inc., which operates programs held at The Meadow Event Park, a 331-acre, year-round facility in Caroline County.

"The Virginia State Fair is a great product and Meadow Event Park is a beautiful facility," said Pierson-Jolliffe, "To have that opportunity is a real privilege. The Commonwealth is an exceptional place with incredible resources. There is a lot of potential for growth."

Pierson-Jolliffe is heading to a more active fairgrounds. In addition to the State Fair of Virginia and other events popular region-wide, such as thPhoto By Browns Photographye Virginia Horse Festival, K95 CountryFest and Illuminate Light Show & Santa's Village, the center hosts dozens of other events, including concerts, festivals, conventions and trade shows.

 Her new fair is significantly larger - the 10-day early autumn celebration of everything Old Dominion (the 2015 State Fair of Virginia, runs Sept. 25 - Oct. 4) attracted 238,000 in 2014,  nearly 100,000 more attendees than the West Virginia State Fair, which according to Pierson-Jolliffee, attracted 155,000 in 2013, the most recent figures available (the 2013 West Virginia State Fair was also negatively impacted by rain) .  

The Meadow Event Park, located in Caroline County, Virginia draws from large and diverse markets. The park  - 30 miles north of Richmond, the state Capital, and 32 miles from Fredericksburg, a suburb of Washington D.C. - is essentially equidistant from two of eastern Virginia's  major metropolitan areas. The State Fair of Virginia attracts attendees from both areas, a prospect that Pierson-Jolliffe finds enticing.

"Attendees come from state-wide, but the fairs draws from two large metro markets, Richmond and D.C.," she said. In addition, the growth of the state's agricultural industry and the state-government support for farming is a positive. "There's a lot of potential with the fair, and from an agricultural economic standpoint, the growth of the Virginia agricultural industry bodes well for the fair," she said. "There is a lot of support for the fair."

When she is situated in Virginia, her top agenda item is in-depth research.  "My first goal is to study the market area and find  what our best opportunities and what the challenges are," she said.  

"We are thrilled to have Marlene coming to Virginia," said Greg Hicks, vice president of communications, State Fair of Virginia. "She has a wealth of knowledge in the fair industry and has been a leader on the national level. While the State Fair of Virginia has been highly successful over the past three years, we expect Marlene to help move us to even loftier goals."

Pierson-Jolliffe leaves the West Virginal State Fair after being in the skipper seat for its 90th anniversary celebration in 2014.  She was that fair's CEO for the past 10 years and previously served as assistant manager and sales and marketing manager. She first joined the fair her senior year of high school, then worked full summer seasons through college until she was hired full time. 
 
Pierson- Jolliffe holds a bachelor's degree in travel industry management from Concord College in Athens, W. Va., and a master's degree in parks, recreation and tourism management from Clemson University. She recently served as board chairman of the International Association of Fairs and Expositions.  

Her last day at West Virginia is January 13th and in addition to preparing for the her move to Old Dominion, she's focused "on making a smooth transition at the West Virginia fair."

"Marlene brings with her a wealth of knowledge and experience in running fairs," said Jeff Dillon, president of the State Fair of Virginia. "We feel confident she will help make the State Fair of Virginia and our other events at The Meadow Event Park shine."

From a personal point of view, after such an extensive time with a single fair,  she said "it was time to grow some more."

She added that in recent years, the Virginia Sate Fair "has done a complete turn around, and is in a very strong position.They're also more opportunities for increase profitability of the fair. The Meadow Event Park does  200 plus events a year. The facilities and the buildings are in great shape."

And the biggest change in the fair industry she's seen during her more two decade tenure at a fair just three hours away from her new home? She said the answer was "easy, the change in the entertainment industry. The dynamics to book concerts at a fair have changed, there is more competition. It is the one area that has become more challenging for fairs."

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