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Carnival Warehouse Interview: Jim Tucker
IAFE Leader Steps Down, Predicts Bright Future For Fairs

1/11/2016

By Timothy Herrick

Photo courtesy of Wes Hamilton (SBJ.net)

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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 inPhoto By Wes Hamilton (SBJ.net)to 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. 

 

Tucker's relationship 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, technology.

 

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?  

 

JT: Nothing!

 

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?

 

JT: The 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 key issue

 

CW: How has the IAFE under your leadership addressed the threats to the H-2B VISA program?

 

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 Welfare Coalition.

 

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? 

 

JT: Fairs 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?  

 

JT: The 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 together.

 

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 this effort.

 

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. 




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