Russell Redding the new Secretary of Agriculture, addressed the attendees of the Pennsylvania Association of County Fairs at their annual convention, held January 21-24. There are 109 fairs in the association, and attendance at the yearly gathering was 1,600, higher than last year. Much of the reason for this turnout was that on January 20, a new governor was inaugurated in the state house.
While meeting the new officials may not be unusual for agricultural-based fair association members, the political situation in Pennsylvania and how it will effect that state's fairs is more complicated than the typical changing of the guard.
Following the elections in November, the governorship has gone from Republican to Democrat while the two houses of the state legislature also switched parties, but in reverse - both are now Republican.
"The secretary made a good first impression," said Harry Ruffner, Executive Secretary/Treasurer. "He said all positive words, but until the budget is created, we don't know what will happen to fairs."
In other words, the Pennsylvania Fair Industry is apprehensive. According to Ruffner, fairs are "wobbling." The association has lost six fairs within two years, and inclement weather meant 2014 was less than a banner year for outdoor events in the Keystone State. "Rain was a big factor for many of our fairs last year," said Ruffner.
Three years ago, budget cuts depleted government support for fairs, some which was restored. In 2013, the Association released an Impact Study that found county fairs generated $50 million in revenue (expected to reach $57 million in 2016), created 6,600 part-time and 1,700 full-time jobs, and resulted an economic impact of $126 million on the state.
On the negative side, the Republican administration left office with a budget deficit of more than $1 billion. On the plus side, agriculture and tourism are the two leading industries in Pennsylvania and fairs are instrumental to both. "Our 4-H and 4-A programs are doing great, there's a lot of positives," said Ruffner.
For this year, state funding is in place, "it's the 2016 budget we will be working on," he said. While the start of the budget battle is still several weeks away, the convention also enabled the fairs to regroup and strategize. "We are continuing to meet with our lobbyist to make sure that fairs are part of the debate. We are making sure that that all the new legislators have the impact study," he added.
The convention also featured a trade show floor with 154 trade show booths and its annual Wednesday night entertainment showcase had 16 performers. Mr. Twist himself, Chubby Checker, performed at the Pennsylvania Association of County Fairs Banquet. Inspirational speaker Chad Hymas headlined the opening ceremonies.
New officers for the organization include: Dr. David Reese, President and David Hallstrom, Vice President. The annual Zone Fair Awards were bestowed on: Zone 1 - Jamestown Fair; Zone 2 - Wayne County Fair; Zone 3 - Dawson Grange #419 Community Fair; and Zone 4 - Mason Dixon Fair. The Legislative Award was given to State Senator Judith Schwank.
The seminars and workshops available at the convention included the new Consumer Protection Program Workshop, developed by the International Association of Fairs & Expositions (IAFE) and Dr. Stephen Neel of Technical Solutions International. The program presented new information on enteric pathogens such as E.coli, and explored issues such as controlling traffic flow in all animal areas, creating proper signage, installing hand-wash areas and establishing specific cleaning protocols. "There was a problem out west and we want to avoid any problem in Pennsylvania," said Ruffner. The IAFE developed a really good workshop, which was very well attended."
Iowa Fairs Upbeat at Annual Convention
Fairs are often seen as epitomizing the values of America's heartland and few states seem as synonymous with that heartland as Iowa. The Hawkeye State boasts 106 annual fairs (the population is a little more than 3.01 million), making the fair industry a major driver for tourism and agriculture.
"We were very blessed with good weather last year and had a good fair season," said Tom Barnes, Executive Director of the Association of Iowa Fairs and Executive Secretary of the Mighty Howard County Fair in Cresskill.
This proactive attitude and positive feelings about the state's robust industry resounded throughout the state's annual convention, held December 12-14 at the Holiday Inn Airport in Des Moines. The turnout - 1,397 - was a near-record and included representatives from both the member fairs and the 145 associate members.
Last year was a banner year for Iowa Fairs said Barnes, and the upbeat attitude lasted long after the conclusion of the events.
"When fairs have good years, it is a pretty easy for them to have positive attitude and to bring that positive energy to the convention," he said. "It can be is easy to keep that positive energy going."
Another factor causing an upbeat attitude at the convention was the decline in gasoline prices. "With gas prices down half, that definitely makes you smile," he said. " It reduces overhead costs and makes maintenance less expensive. There's a ripple effect."
Iowa fairs are benefiting from a healthy agricultural industry and supportive state government. "Fairs keep the agriculture industry moving, and farming people sustain and grow fairs," said Barnes.
According to Barnes, the state government is providing grants of up to $10,000 for capital improvements for qualifying fairgrounds. "They are finding funds, which the fairs need and is giving a boost to the fairs."
The convention featured several workshops, including: ADA Guidelines, Marketing & Funding Basics; Insurance Do's & Don'ts; Conflict of Interest Policy for Fair Boards; Targeting Generation ‘Y'; Livestock - This & That; Successful Promotions on a Small Budget, and Getting the Most Out Of Free Grounds Entertainment. Jessica McLaughlin CFE, Fair Coordinator of the Spokane Interstate Fair in Spokane Washington, presented her workshop Junior Youth Boards, which covered such issues as recruiting members, duties, meetings and sharing of responsibilities.
A related youth issue at the convention was how to increase the volunteer base for fairs. The fair volunteer population is aging, straining the operations of many county fairs, and the younger generation seems reluctant to take their place. "It is tougher to get younger folks to volunteer," said Barnes.
The shortage of a new generation to populate the ranks of fair volunteers, doesn't does not seem to be occurring at the fair management or agricultural level. "We are seeing new faces and younger faces at the convention," said Barnes. "We have seen an influx of the younger professionals in all types of agriculture work. Veterinarian Medicine is big. Ag business is teaming with younger workers."
Iowa fairs are maintaining traditional attractions, and AG-centric focus, but they are also, "trying new things to attracting a new clientele, they might be into photography exhibits are take a new look at the entertainment. Fairs are refocusing on what they do," he said.
He added, "Every year, social media is growing for fair promotion and we talk about that at every convention. The local fairs are doing a better job with social media, and it is very cost effective promotion and brings in younger people to the fair, especially to the fairs with major name concerts."
More than 600 association members attended the always popular Social A'Fair and Auction. This year's theme was Me & My Hat - attendees wore their favorite, funny, silly or ugly hat - 151 items were donated to the benefit auction from member fairs and associates, with proceeds going towards association promotional and legislative efforts. The Social A'Fair and Auction raised a near record amount of $28,957.
In addition to workshops, Round Table discussion were held, with topics including: Admission Prices, Fees & Your Exhibitors; Milestone Fairs: VIP Program at Grandstand Shows; and Fairgrounds Beautification Ideas.
The Association of Iowa Fairs Hall of Fame inductees at the convention included: Kenny(posthumously) & Elaine Hinsch, George, Lyon County Fair; Edna Schrandt, Decorah, Winneshiek County Fair; George Moffett of Variety Attractions. New offices elected at the convention included: Rick Palmer of as the 2015 President of the Association Board; Jerry Hopperstad of Northwood as Board's 1st Vice President and Jim Sloan of Eldon as Board's 2nd Vice President. Association Directors elected to the Board were Darwin Gaudian of Primghar in O'Brien County, Jerry Hopperstad of Northwood in Worth County, Rick Palmer of Manchester in Delaware County, Jim Mohr of Coon Rapids in Carroll County, Jo Reynolds of Indianola in Warren County and Randy Beckman of Sperry in Des Moines County.
Dave & Bonnie Tripses of D & B Shows of Lone Tree received the ‘Leo Overland Showman of the Year' award and Bob Schlutz of the Louisa County Fair in Columbus Junction, was named the Association's 'Fairman of the Year'.
The theme of the convention was A Fair Family Reunion - while fellowship and networking were key factors for attending, this reunion also revitalized the commitment of attendees to continue the Iowa fair industry's success.