At the start of this month, the man instrumental in ushering fairs into the 21st century
stepped down. As of January 1st, Jim Tucker, is no
longer the President & CEO of the International Association of
Fairs & Expositions (IAFE), a position he's held since 2001.
As Marla Calico, COO
of the IAFE is promoted to become the organization's new (and first
woman) President & CEO, Tucker will ease into
semi-retirement, resuming a limited law practice-the IAFE will remain his
client-in his hometown of Springfield, Missouri, and returning to live and
work the 1,300-acre farm where he grew up and has been his family since
the 1830s. As he renews this crucial, if limited, role as IAFE
counsel-the IAFE first hired Tucker as its attorney in 1980 -Tucker
said his most important objective will be lobbying in Washington for fair
issues, especially workings towards restoring
the H-2B Visa program, an issue sure to be addressed in the
next session of congress.
with fairs long predates his involvement with the IAFE. In fact, Tucker
claims his own fair going predates his own memory - his pregnant mother attended the Ozark Empire Fair while he was
still in the womb. But he vividly remembers growing up and
showing dairy and beef cattle, hogs and sheep at fairs, then later
working as a State FFA Officer in the agriculture exhibit of the FFA at
the Missouri State Fair.
In a wide-ranging,
often candid interview, conducted by email and phone,
Tucker was as knowledgeable as he is congenial,
combining the manner of a straight forward farmer
with the realistic viewpoint of an experienced attorney. He
avoids legalese and acknowledges the controversies -most without
simple solutions - the fair industry confronts in the 21st century.
Tucker is a true believer in fairs and agriculture,
convinced that the future of each depends on the success of both.
Carnival Warehouse: How long
have you been in the fair industry?
Jim Tucker: I
prefer not to speak of the fair movement as an industry. Fairs,
exhibitions, expositions and shows are government, quasi-government,
non-profit, volunteer based, community celebrations and are members of the
benevolent sector of our economy and society rather than the industrial sector.
I started showing Jersey cattle at the Ozark Empire Fair when I was
five years old and later exhibited at other shows in the area including the
Missouri State Fair. I have been exhibiting at and affiliated with fairs
and shows my entire life.
CW: I hope it's
okay with you if I still refer to it as the fair industry.
JT: That's fine.
CW: As you transition into a
lower-profile role in the IAFE, how do you feel about the future of fairs?
JT: The future of fairs
is bright. The production of a fair requires a close working relationship
between the non-profit fair entity, the purposes of which are established by
volunteer boards, and the for-profit mobile amusement contractors,
concessionaires, commercial exhibitors and entertainers. Understanding this
fundamental difference and nurturing that environment with open, transparent,
honest, ethical business practices and communication is the most important
issue facing fairs.
CW: What has been the
most significant change to the fair industry during your tenure?
JT: In a word,
CW: What do you like
the best about the new fair industry?
JT: The use of
technology to reach the community to communicate about all facets of fairs from
harvesting information from focus groups, to receiving entries online, to
activating volunteers, to marketing our fairs, to accounting to and following
up with sponsors, government and stakeholders etc.
CW: What do you miss
the most about the way the fair industry used to be?
CW: What is an issue that
the IAFE must deal with now that was not even a
remote possibility when you first took on the leadership
role 15 years ago?
transmission of zoonotic diseases to humans from contact with the other members
of the animal kingdom that are exhibited at fairs-primarily farm animals.
CW: What is one thing
that you did then that is no longer relevant?
JT: Relying on
the elected Board Chair to set the agenda and the program of work for the IAFE
on a yearly basis. An ongoing strategic planning process involving
representative voices from the membership now addresses that function.
CW: Are you concerned about
the "graying" of the fair industry? Is the fair industry getting too old
to be relevant or are you seeing enough younger professionals to
ensure the industry continues?
JT: The influx of
young professionals into the ranks of fair management is significant. The
rate of this influx is increasing rapidly and the gender mix is moving toward
females in management as the Baby Boomers, me included, step away. For the most
part these young professionals are college educated, socially conscious,
energetic, highly motivated people who want to be employed in the "real world" as opposed to the "virtual world."
CW: The Rising costs of
headline entertainment has been an issue for fairs in recent years, how do you
feel about this issue?
JT: The cost
of headline entertainment is a function of the marketplace. Headline
entertainment has "marquee appeal" but over 80 percent of those who visit fairs
do not go to see the headline entertainers. We help our fairs understand
that fact and share ideas about entertainment that is highly successful at
attracting an audience.
CW: If you had to pick the
single key issue fair proponents must fight for in congress in 2016, which
would it be?
JT: The overlay of
the election year cycle in 2016 makes congressional action difficult to
predict. I suspect the H-2B issues have the greatest potential to be the
CW: How has the IAFE
under your leadership addressed the threats to the H-2B
JT: The IAFE is a
member of the Workforce Coalition advocating for the interests of its members,
including the OABA, regarding the H-2B developments. I consult with OABA
leaders and participate in and contribute to the discussions involving H-2B,
NLRB, and related labor issues. IAFE also communicates to its members in
the U.S. about the developments in labor issues and activates them to contact
their congressional delegations when critical legislative action is pending.
Restoration of the H-2B visa program to a status that will assure a
workforce for the mobile amusement contractors and concessionaires is our
top lobbying issue now.
.CW: What lobbying
collaborations have been the most effective in Washington?
JT: The Workforce
Coalition, an ADA Coalition, State Agriculture and Rural Leaders, an Animal
CW: Many governors and
state legislatures are cutting financial support for local, county and
state fairs. Can this trend be addressed nationally?
JT: Fairs are
community celebrations that bubble up from and reflect their community and the
current state of the political, economic, and civic status where they are
produced. As our economy emerges from the "great recession" fairs find
themselves in the same situation as all government agencies. IAFE helps
its members survey and secure economic activity and economic impact data to share
with government officials. Our Institute of Fair Management curriculum
includes course work on government and public relations. We advocate with
the media on behalf of members on this subject, as well.
CW: But budgets keep
getting cut and at the state level there seems little to no support
or coalition building with the state and regional agriculture industry, who seem like the most logical
partner in supporting fairs.
JT: You're right,
at the national level we have strong coalitions with agriculture, but
there is not enough lobbying efforts by food growers, production
suppliers and processors at the statehouses to support
fairs. At the national level we
meet regularly with the Farm Bureau and other organizations to on
lobbying efforts, and I don't think that is happening at the state level. That
said, I don't think the budgets cuts for fairs is
a continuing trend. If you look at the 200 years that
fairs have been part of our lives and the amount of money, taxes and
revenues that fairs have the ability to generate, I feel
more state governments will realize their importance and need to
fund them. If states take a look at the economic activity and
impact on taxes generated, they will see state and county fairs deserve
all the support they can get. State and
municipals governments help underwrite bonds for hotels and motels,
and fairs seem be doing the same, they generate positive revenue. Fairs
and fairgrounds are a public space, and when states put more money
to fairs, it is a positive and more state fair organizations should
provide their representatives economic impact studies to show the
positive benefits of fairs.
CW: While not
widespread by any means, there have been some violent incidents at
state fairs in recent seasons. Do you feel this trend that
could threaten the image of fairs?
JT: With regard to
life safety and security, and crowd management the IAFE is a leader in training
about these matters. We have intense education and workshops on these
subjects at every convention, at many other meetings when appropriate, and we
provide web-based resources to help our members. I'm in constant
communications with the Department of Homeland Security on security issues.
CW: But fairs who've had
these violent incidents, which include shootings, brawls and evidence of gang
activity, all had security polices in place. These incidents
keep occurring. Are the programs you've
mentioned sufficiently addressing the issue?
represent a cross section of society, and fairs represent the society and
community in which they are situated in. Increased violence
is occurring at fairs because it is occurring throughout
our society and it's at that level where the problem really needs to be
addressed. Fairs are not causing the violence, and we have to be extremely
vigilant in stopping these incidents and making sure fairs are a
family friendly, secure environment.
CW: Under your term as
president, the IAFE has really expanded its international reach. How
would your describe your role in this, what were the biggest challenges, and
the most significant benefits of this outreach?
celebration of farming and a successful harvest is a phenomenon that occurs in
almost all societies on the globe. My role has been to recognize that
fact and to reach out to people around the world involved in that endeavor.
Making those connections has been easiest in the English-speaking world
because of the common language, but the IAFE has made significant strides in
this regard in South Korea and Mexico. The benefits are many for all
involved. Networking and sharing ideas about what works and what has not
worked in the day-to-day operations of these events brings great rewards.
Fairs, exhibitions, expositions and shows thrive when they introduce
unique entertainment and education to their audience. These
international connections bring boundless opportunities to share and learn
about very different societies and their people.
CW: Why do you
consider PETA and other animal rights proponents such a threat to fairs?
JT: Animal welfare
and animal rights issues threaten the right to show and exhibit
farm animals in the fair environment and we have to preserve that
right. The core mission of fairs is to provide a venue to promote
the agriculture industry, raising livestock to
be in a competition. Fairs have been extremely effective
increasing agriculture promotions and presenting healthy, farm animals.
There is a need to focus on and monitor what is going
on with animal rights activists, and their lobbyists with regard
to farm animals. We have to better educate the public on what is needed to
raise farm animals and that we have to have competitions
and exhibitions of farm animals. It is my vast concern that
animal rights proponents are a real threat. I distinguish between animal rights
and animal welfare.
CW: Why are fairs still
relevant to our society and culture?
JT: In the United
States, where we expect the grocery shelves to be fully stocked at all times so
we can have three or more life sustaining meals a day, we have turned the
production of food over to less than 2 percent of our population. It is
cliche but many think their food comes from the "back of the store." The
US Department of Education did a study in 2006 to learn how many 7th-12th grade
schools in this country had formal agriculture education in the schools
curriculum. There are approximately 37,000 such schools and 82 percent
had no agriculture education in their curriculum. Unfortunately,
government has defaulted on educating about a subject vital to our personal
existence and critical to our national security. I fear that well meaning
but uninformed or misinformed folks will make or permit politicians to make
decisions and pass laws that will needlessly jeopardize farmers' ability to
produce the food we must have to sustain a population estimated to exceed 9
billion by 2050. Fairs are also, along with families, schools, churches,
festivals and civic organizations, one of the foundation blocks of our
communities. Fairs are more important to our communities than ever
before-they inform and they are part of the glue that holds our society
CW What accomplishment
as President & CEO of the largest fair association in the fair industry are
you most proud of?
JT: I feel
best about bringing a civility to the environment where fairs are produced that
recognizes that everybody involved deserves dignity and that when we
communicate openly, ethically and honestly anything is possible. I'm
deeply indebted to OABA CEO, Bob Johnson who has worked tirelessly with me in
CW: Was there a lack
of civility between agriculture fairs and carnival companies?
JT: One of the
first things we did was begin a conversation between fairs and mobile
amusement device operators, and during the course of that dialogue we
developed best practices with fairs, mobile companies, concessionaires.
Those documents emphasized the importance of communication. There was a
great interest in developing best practices by all entities involved with
fairs, and it showed a maturity and that there was a need to
fully understand all aspects of the fair business, and to promote all
those aspects, including the agricultural exhibits and competitions
and the mobile amusement and entertainment sectors of the fair. We
need to be working at our highest level so we can hold on
the place that fairs have in our economy.