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A Brighter Season for Reithoffer Shows in 2019
Reithoffer weights in on the H-2B labor crisis
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This year was one of the brightest for Reithoffer Shows.  The company went out this year with 100 percent of its equipment in its two units outfitted in LED lights. This inventory-wide upgrade included replacing older light systems, older LED systems as well as purchasing new equipment with the state-of-the-art lighting systems.

“We have six brand new LED systems,” said Rick Reithoffer. “We have new systems for the Fire Fly, Pharaohs Fury, Century Wheel, Ring of Fire, Zipper and the Air Race. We have updated a number of the systems. It is magical what you can with the new systems.”

Bright Ideas

The lighting strategy is not just mere illumination. To generate the kind of midway Reithoffer envisions – one that emanates excitement, enticing fairgoers to ride more rides and stay longer at the fair because the fun never ends – Reithoffer is programming the light system patterns to run on longer cycles. “The systems don't reset for 30 minutes, all day, every day.  The midways always look fresh, they attract people and when they come they enjoy the atmosphere because it's never boring, it's always new.”

The comprehensive re-lighting of the Reithoffer midway has been a key factor in what has been a successful year for the carnival company.  The improved economy and patches of good weather certainly had a positive important, but the difference between those factors and the latest LED systems is that reinvesting in the midway presentation is a factor that carnival companies have control over. “With our purchases, we want to stay ahead of the curve this year, instead of catching up,” he said.

The plan seems to be working for Reithoffer, who is on track for setting record revenues in 2019. Most of the fairs were up, said Reithoffer. In particular, one of the largest fairs on his route, the New Mexico State Fair, not only broke records but the midway itself received local coverage, highlighting the fact the carnival company is now in its fifth generation, one of the old carnival families in the U.S. “Reithoffer says they're still putting on the safe and fun events they've been doing to for the past 123 years and plan to continue for generations to come,” stated a report on the fair by local station, KRQE.

Reithoffer's stint at the New Mexico State Fair included a layout redesign, complete with installing a new trench system to conceal power cables and the donation of 150 picnic benches to the fair. “It's a true partnership with Reithoffer Shows and I think that it is unique for fairs,” said Dan Mourning, General Manager, New Mexico State Fair.  

Fair Commitment

“They have a real commitment to the our state and our fair. Reithoffer Shows also reorganized their ride setup this year to optimize the fairgoers experience. [The midway] was all lit up with new LED lighting. It looked like magic. They really create an exciting atmosphere, where people want to go out and spend their money.”

Another southwestern fair – although not on the same scale as the New Mexico State Fair – is the South Plains Fair in Lubbock, Texas. This year, rain plagued several days of the fair although when the weather broke, “we almost made up we lost. “It's a great city with a great western tradition and it's a great fair with an excellent fair manager (Jennifer Wallace ).” said Reithoffer.  “People love the fair, they wanted to come to the fair.”

Enabling Reithoffer Shows to make the best of a non-ideal situation was the new 2019 lighting system. The fair is accessible from four different interstate highways. “No matter which interstate you travelled, you could see our LED light show,” said Reithoffer. “People really embrace this fair, and we were able to chip away at the deficit from the rain.”

Like many carnival companies, the Reithoffer route begins in February with the Floridian carnival season, then heads north, covering states such as Maryland and New Jersey and concludes in the Southwest. The distance he traverses gives him a sense of the economy, and compared to 2018, he sees an increase in disposable income.

H-2B: Death Sentence

“The economy is jumping. Every state we played people are happy, spending more money at the fairs. There is a real difference from last year. The economy is a big factor and you notice its better than last year.”

The improved economy and plummeting unemployment also exacerbated the major issue affecting nearly all carnival companies this year, the H-2B crisis. Reithoffer Shows was one of dozens of companies hurt by the visa processing computer crash on January 1, delaying the arrival of the annual allotment of foreign guest workers for Reithoffer from April to July. The company was forced to try recruiting American workers to help with the spring dates, luckily the slowest time of year for the company.

In addition to participating in job fairs and other hiring methods, Reithoffer worked with a recruitment service. “We were supposed to get 30, we got 20 and of that 20 only six stayed,” he said.

Keep in mind, the company had slots for 130 H-2B workers. “It was a very difficult time for us. I know quite a few shows that had to cancel dates. Luckily that didn't happen to us, but it was very hard on our staff.”

The needed workers started trickling in by mid-June, but the company only received 92, far short of the number originally requested. Like many companies, Reithoffer was short-handed much of the season, leaving them to scramble many days. “We have equipment that takes 6,7 hours to tear down and without the workers, it could take two and half days.”

Rick Reithoffer is very involved with Outdoor Amusement Business Association efforts to resolve the current H-2B crisis so the fair industry can avoid the severe labor force shortages next year. But the scenario so far does little to encourage optimism. “With the economy booming, it is getting harder and harder to find people to work this industry, so we need foreign workers. Working in the carnival business is not for the faint of heart, but the foreign workers make a good living and their families depend on them. Not having enough workers is a death sentence for the entire industry.”

He added, “[OABA] spent $250,000 in lobbying this year, and we are scheduled to spend another $120,000, but we are at the limits of our coffers. We need more support from the industry. But we need a permanent fix and that means raising the cap and getting a returning worker exception to the cap. There's no way of forecasting of what will happen next year, especially with the growing gridlock in Washington because of the impeachment and next year's election.”
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