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Facing Challenges: OABA & NICA Finalizing 2021 Florida Week
Reopening Seminars, NAARSO Certification, & H-2B Meetings Highlight Educational Series
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Last year was a year like no other, and it's now been a year since the carnival and fair industries have meet in person.  That will change next month when Florida Week takes place. Held in conjunction with the annual Gibtown Trade Show by the International Independent Showmen's Association (IISA), Florida Week features events by the Outdoor Amusement Business Association (OABA) and the National Independent Concessionaires Association (NICA).

Yes, all the safety protocols that have become commonplace parts of our daily lives – masks, hand sanitizing, social distancing, etc. – will be in full force. Also, attendance dips are anticipated and event organizers are still scrambling to finalize all the programming details. But midway professionals are determined that the industry will meet in person as together they face 2021 and what they hope will be the beginning of the end of the pandemic era.


Ready to Meet

“Our boards of directors have not met in person since last February,” said Greg Chiecko, President and CEO, OABA. “The general consensus is they want an in-person meeting and have many important issues to discuss.  It was a very difficult year in 2020 for our industry and we want to make sure that our members have all the tools they need to have a safe and profitable year in 2021.  We have a very dedicated board of directors that look out for our entire industry.”

The OABA agenda includes its annual Board of Directors Meeting, the 5th Annual OABA Top Golf H2B Advocacy Fundraiser, its 56th Annual Member Meeting and Chair's Reception and the OABA Reception Honoring 2021 Hall of Fame & Pioneer Recipients.  Florida Week will allow the industry to regroup and reevaluate, as they confront the challenges that lay ahead.

“We intend to update our strategic plan, discuss our membership, contribution fund and Jamboree Committees,” said Chiecko. “We will also honor our Hall of Fame and Pioneer Award recipients.  Also, educational programs will be held at the club in Gibtown.”

The OABA conference will also present two interactive, workshop/discussions covering the most pressing concern  for carnival companies and midway providers – how to operate in  2021. OABA programming will explore two interrelated  halves of conducting fair business in the Coronavirus era – what kind of events are possible when a fair is cancelled and what midway providers should be prepared for if the fair has been given a greenlight to go on.


Learning from 2020

Held at the Gibtown Trade Show, a seminar titled, Creative Ways to Produce Income During a Pandemic, features a panel of concessionaires and carnival operators will discuss ways they were able to generate income while the fair industry was shut down. The discussion will be moderated by Lee Stevens, IISA president and owner of Ju-Lee Concessions.  It is scheduled for Wednesday, February 17 at 11:30am, and will be held inside the Carousel Pavilion at the Gibtown Trade Show.

The seminar will be followed by Case Studies – Events That Operated During the 2020 Season, an Open Discussion, moderated by Debbie Powers, of Powers Great American Midways and OABA 2020 Chairwoman, and Michael Wood, Michael Wood of Wood Entertainment Company Government Affairs Chair for OABA, and Marla Calico of the IAFE at 1pm.

“The last thing we as an industry want is to have fairs or events get a greenlight but not be prepared to create a plan that we can we open with,” said Wood. “We at the OABA think it would be a good idea to share what was required for the events that did run in 2020 during pandemic conditions. That way companies can know what to expect, and prepare themselves to meet those expectations.”

In addition to the various aspects of midway opening– i.e. signage, masking requirements, social distancing protocols, etc. – Wood hopes the seminar will also create a forum for other midway adjustments. “COVID meant companies had to scale back, because of labor issues and other factors, the footprint of the midway,” he said. “We need to have that conversation with fairs as they reopen. We can run an efficient, profitable midway with less rides. Many fairs will reopen with orders to reduce capacity, so fewer rides may be required anyway.”

Wood, who is also the current president of NAARSO (National Association of Amusement Ride Safety Officials), will provide for the second year at the Gibtown trade show, NARSO certification and testing. “It was a tremendous success, very well attended, so we are bringing it back. It was a big hit.”

Wood noted that new regulations passed in Florida that as of 2021, all ride assembly and disassembly must be supervised by a NASRSO-certified midway professional – a sensible policy he expects will soon be adopted by other states. “In our experience, safety is contagious,” he added.

Operators and employees can become NAARSO Level 1 Certified at the IISF Trade Show in Gibtown.  A class and exam will be held on Tuesday, February 16 at 11am.

A full schedule of classes and seminars being held at the Gibtown Trade Show can be found on the show web site.

H-2B Unknowns

Florida Week will also feature its JKJ Workforce Seminar – headed by James K. Judkins, an attorney specializing in foreign labor issues and president of JKJ Workforce, one of the leading recruiters of foreign workers for carnival companies and other midway vendors.  JKJ's seminar will be held on Thursday, February 18 at 1pm.

Judkins admits that with the Trump era ending and the Biden administration still new (Carnival Warehouse spoke to Judkins before inauguration day), “our focus is on what is happening now, and the fact is, nothing is normal and everything is in flux.  I think a lot of the discussion will be calming people's fears.”

JKJ's H-2b Seminar is titled "H-2B Balancing Act - Practical, Political Strategies for Survivan in This New Abnormal".

In terms of H-2B workers, he sees no scrambling for visas for 2021, especially since how robust and how quickly a reopening of the fair industry remains unknown, which affects both the demand and the supply of labor. It's also too early to gauge how the new administration and the Democratic control of both houses of Congress will impact the foreign worker visa program. 

The H-2B program falls under the auspices of the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Labor. According to Judkins, the Biden appointee to the former -- Alejandro Mayorkas – is supportive of H-2B workers – and the appointee to the latter,   Marty Walsh –  is opposed to the program.

“Employers want answers, but they don't have answers because they don't know when their fairs and their events will open,” said Judkins. “We need more time to know what will happen because right now, everything's a mess. But we will provide some stability and some logic to the situation and guide attendees through their current labor problems. But, I am confident that carnival companies will get all the H-2B workers they need in 2021.” 


HOF & Pioneer Award

Last year was filled with disruption and uncertainty, and 2021 may have a light at the end of the tunnel but the length of the tunnel is still unknown. It's fitting that OABA's Florida Week is also a time where the industry remembers its resiliency by recognizing the achievement of its long term members with the annual reception Honoring 2021 Hall of Fame & Pioneer Recipients

The 2021 Hall of Fame Inductees are Jeanne McDonagh of Michigan's McDonagh's Amusements, and Sam Johnston of California's Midway of Fun Carnival.

OABA's Pioneer Award goes to Jerry Aldrich, who, “after an international career with Walt Disney Park operations, was then engaged by the OABA to become administrator and inspector for OABA's new Circle of Excellence initiative,” according to an OABA press release.

“With the goal of recording the history of its members, the Outdoor Amusement Business Association started its Hall of Fame in 2004,” said John Hanschen of Thomas Carnival, Inc. and Committee chairman of the  HOF / Historical committee, OABA. “ I'm glad the honors to McDonagh, Johnston and Aldrich will be made, right in the middle of this historic pandemic period. It shows the heart and resilience of our industry. We managed to survive the two world wars, a polio pandemic, floods, hurricanes and dust bowls, and the great depression, and influenzas of all manner. The outdoor amusement industry presses on.”


NICA: Movin' Forward

The NICA segment of Florida Week entitled Movin' Forward, features the NICA Business EXPO and Fare Foods Food Show. NICA will kick off its website-based Peer to Peer Resource Center, as well as host several workshops, “Live conventions are about networking, education, and meeting organizational policies and procedures,” said Rey O'Day, Executive Director. “ If we can do that safely and socially distanced why not?  If not, we will still present some of it virtually.”

What is most on the minds of concessionaires and other midway vendors as they approach Florida Week? “Doing what is required of them to open Fairs and Festivals so they can get back to work serving customers, earning money for their families, and providing financial support for their events,” said O'Day.

OABA Full Schedule of Events

Listed below is the OABA's complete schedule of events for Florida Week 2021.

Wednesday, February 17:

  • 8:00 – 11:00 OABA Government Relations Committee Meeting. Sheraton Hotel. Committee and Board Members only.
  • 11:00 – 12:30 Creative Ways to Produce Income During a Pandemic.  Carousel Pavillion on the IISA grounds.  Open to all.  Lee Stevens, IISA President and a panel of concessionaires and carnival operators will discuss ways they were able to generate income while the industry was shut down.
  • 1:00 – 2:30 Case Studies – Events That Operated During the 2020 Season, an Open Discussion.  Carousel Pavillion on the IISA grounds.  Open to all.  Debbie Powers, Michael Wood and Marla Calico, CFE President and CEO of the IAFE will discuss their opinions about events that actually operated during 2020.
  • 3:00 – 4:00 OABA Reception Honoring 2021 Hall of Fame & Pioneer Recipients.  IISA Carnival Museum, second floor.  Open to all.

Thursday, February 18:

  • 9:00 – Noon OABA Board of Directors Meeting and Breakfast.  Sheraton Tampa East Hotel Salon 2 & 3).  Board Members and Trustees Only.
  • 12:30 – 2:00 MAI/OABA Duke Smith Memorial Education Fund Board & Scholarship Meeting.  Sheraton Tampa East Hotel Room TBD.   MAI Board Members Only.
  • 7:00 – 10:00 p.m. 5th Annual OABA Top Golf H2B Advocacy Fundraiser.  TopGolf, Tampa.  Open to all, fee required.

Friday, February 19:

  • 6:00 – 9:30 p.m. OABA's 56th Annual Member Meeting and Chair's Reception.  Sheraton Tampa East Hotel Ballroom and Foyer.  All OABA Members welcome – RSVP required.
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