(Midway Millennials is an ongoing series profiling the new generation of fair professionals)
Dean Corl, Office Manager, for Powers Great American Midways may work in the fair industry, but sees a bigger picture. "We are in the entertainment business, we are an entertainment company."
What is the objective of the entertainment?
Families spending time together and having a good time. "Seeing the smile on a child's face, you feel you have made a change in this world. There are so many things in life that bring people pain and suffering. But a carnival, that can light up the world, and you feel you are having positive influence. What makes me happy is seeing them happy."
Dean Corl is the older brother of Phil Corl, who are 4th generation carnival workers on their mother's - Debbie Powers - side and are the adopted sons of Corky Powers, owner/founder of Powers Great American Midways.
Like many of his cohorts - midway professionals who are offspring of fair families - Dean Corl grew up on the midway.
His earliest midway memory of a ride is the "Super Jets," which is now best compared to "a Wisdom Cobra Costar."
He also remembers the electrical boxes - a technology long since replaced - on the midway grounds, which were opened and had "popsicle sticks sticking out of them so you wouldn't get electrocuted."
As soon as he was able, he began working fairs. "I basically had the winters off, but worked all summer," he said. "I started with the fried dough and funnel cake stands. Some fairs call them elephant ears."
Along the way, he earned an Associates Degree in Science from Cape Fear Community College in Wilmington, North Carolina, and was encouraged to consider career paths. Before committing full time to Powers' Great American Midways, in his early 20s he worked for Verizon and also Walt Disney at Epcot Center. But even in these new environments, his fair breeding was apparent. "I worked in the outdoor food department, and managers loved me, because I wanted to be a stocker," he said. A stocker essentially manages inventory. "Nobody wanted to be a stocker, but it was second nature to me."
As many fair family offspring eventually realize, he wanted to be part of the family business, although he understands that it is hard to convey the idiosyncratic appeal of the mobile amusement industry lifestyle. When he was working at other professions, "I always wanted to leave. I realized I missed the erratic hours, as crazy as that might sound. It's the reverse of other jobs most other people have. You work long hours on the weekend, you're off in the middle of the week. But that always seemed like freedom to me."
He added, "I love to drive. I love being in the truck and driving. You get to see all parts of the country, like North Carolina. Virginia, Western Pennsylvania, Catskills, New York. You get see all the different foliage and people. I love the travel part of the job."
After returning back to the fold full time in 2006, he was named Ride Supervisor. In 2009, he was promoted to his present position of Office Manager, a job that combines people skills and his computer skills as he oversees essentially every component of the midway and its personnel - ticket sales, payroll, security, state and local permits, and interfacing with fair and event personnel. He makes sure the port-o-johns are clean and the dumpsters are empty. And, he handles all customer complaints.
"You have to wear many hats," he said. "You have be aware of the fair you are at, and the fair 30 days from now. I am basically the face of the company, I'm doing the walk throughs with the inspectors and dealing with the fair manager."
In addition, his duties only begin with the fair. Powers Great American Midways is using about 100 H-2B Visa workers this year. By late June, the midway had a sufficient workforce. In the springtime, the work force "was very thin, we were waiting for the paperwork to go through. It was very challenging, there were a lot of delays. They only tell you that it is delayed, they don't give you a reason," he said.
As Office Manager, he has a lead role in the midway company's recruitment of foreign worker, a job that entails interacting with a range of governmental agencies, including Immigration & Naturalization, Department of Labor and Homeland security. It's a matter of juggling emails, phone calls, and paper work. "It can be very challenging, because there's always delays and none of the agencies need to tell you why there is a delay, so they don't. It's very frustrating because if you don't know, there's no way to avoid a delay."
But it's the face of the company when it comes to customer complaints that can be the most problematic. His secret is, "never get excited. No matter if they may be screaming or hollering, never get excited. Just be calm and logical. You never know their backstory, they're dog might have just died or something. So the most important part is to listen."
Otherwise, there's no silver bullet. "it's a case by case situation, what may be good for this person may not be okay for the next person. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, the person leaves with a smile."
As the face of the company, Dean Corl attends state and national conventions, meeting and networking with professionals his age and older. "We definitely have a lot to learn from the older generation, they built this industry," he said. "When I first went, I thought there wouldn't be anyone my age to talk to, but there was and I think our numbers are increasing. Our presence is being noticed, which is positive."
But make no mistake, it's the new Millennial blood that will be bringing new changes to the fair business. "People from my generation, we are networking and sharing stories."
The leading change his generation is working towards is the perception of the midway workers. "We definitely want to change the image of the people who work the midway. We want to get rid of the old image of a shady carnie working fairs. We want to make the midway experience a family and fun experience. It might even take another generation to fully erase it, that is one goal we share, to make the entire midway experience positive."
The image makeover may be the top agenda item, but it also seems intertwined with the Gen-X fair professional intention to make the midway as pristine and high-tech as Disney World. "There's no reason why a fair's midway can't be more like Epcot or Six Flags. We want the midway to be cleaner, safer and of course, bigger, better, faster."
He added, "our generation is pushing the new technologies, with light towers and speakers systems, ticketless systems and wireless communications. There is a lot more we can do, but as an industry, we are taking baby steps in the right direction. The ones my age who grew up in this business, we are here to stay."