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Florida Federation of Fairs Convention: Security Workshops and Agricultural Commissioner Debate
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An upbeat attitude and an uptick in attendance highlighted the annual convention Florida Federation of Fairs and Livestock Shows, Inc. Convention, held May 17- 19 at the The Hilton Buena Vista Palace in Orlando.

According to the incoming president, the attitude improvement may have been a result of better preshow planning –the organization sought feedback and input prior to this year’s meeting, which reshaped the educational offerings by making them more relevant to the federation’s grass roots.

“The convention went very well,” said Paul Davis, the incoming president who also leads the Florida Strawberry Festival. “Our members really got a lot of what they needed from the classes we offered. We sent out questionnaires and really encouraged people to let us know what they needed in instruction and updating on. A lot of topics were very well attended.”

Active Shooter
The main program directly addressed an issue that couldn’t be more topical – Active Shooter Workshop. The plague of mass shootings and gun violence afflicting the United States continues, and it has been particularly acute in Florida, where Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Broward County, and the Parkland school shootings in February left 17 dead and the Pulse Night Club shooting in 2016 resulted in 49 casualties. Event and facility managers across the nation are justifiably concerned about the new security measures required in this new reality and fair industry professionals in particular are intensely aware that fairs are vulnerable targets. Security seminars have become common at many fair conventions and meetings, but Davis pointed out that this federation’s workshop was more intensive and hands-on.

“The Active Shooter Workshop was very well attended,” he said. “Everybody needs to know where they have to be when the time for action is here. Everybody plans for an incident and has security in place, but at some point the time for planning is done. It’s a national trend where everybody in the fair industry is brushing up their emergency plans, and now that plans have to add in the active shooter.”

He added that fairs are also implementing more reinforced security procedures at the gates. “There are pros and cons but people’s expectations of privacy in their day to day lives have changed. Airports have check points and major malls and shopping centers have cameras, so people have different expectations when they are in public Fairs are getting smarter with their security.”

Another popular workshop was “Low Cost Entertainment Ideas” which Davis said focused on grounds and roving acts. “People want to save money but give good entertainment to their fairs, so there is a lot of interest in lower-cost entertainment and grounds acts, it was a very well attended seminar.”

Changing Lives
The theme of this year’s convention was “Changing Lives One Fair At A Time,” a concept Davis helped create as incoming president – He was “gaveled” in at the 2018 convention. This theme helped refocus fairs to what they do best, knowing and serving their community. “Everyone on the planning committee felt that a big part of what we do as fairs is about community, community pride, community ownership,” he said. “No one of us can compete with Disney or Bush Gardens, and as trite as it may sound, fairs are still a slice of our community.”

The Florida Federation of Fairs represents 49 Fairs, and this year’s convention attracted approximately 525 attendees, which was higher than last year, a sign of an improved economy and a more robust educational agenda at the meeting.

Awards bestowed at the event included Associate of the Year – Dave Meola with TechTronics AND Hall of Fame Award – Tom Umiker, CFE, Greater Hillsborough County Fair. In addition to Davis being sworn in as president, other officers included: 1st VP - Bill Olson, CFE, Greater Jacksonville Ag Fair; 2nd VP - Jim Ward, Pasco County Fair; Sec/Treasurer - Rhonda Ward - Collier County Fair. According to Lisa Hinton, Executive Director of the Florida Federation of Fairs, the organization plans to send a larger than usual delegation to the IAFE Convention to honor Rick Vymlatil, President and Chief Executive Officer of South Florida Fair and Palm Beach County Expositions Inc., who will be the 2018 IAFE Chair.

The meeting also held its first Commissioner of Agriculture debate. Florida is one of the few states where the Ag commissioner is an elected position. The organization hosted a Candidates Forum and three candidates for commissioner participated. “It was huge for us because the ag commissioners reach out to the state and governmental officials on behalf of the ag industry and fairs,” he said. “We were able to hear from all the candidates, who all had strengths and weaknesses.”

Upbeat Attitude
The overall fair industry in Florida met with markedly more upbeat attitudes this year, said Hinton. “Definitely more optimistic - our theme was "Changing Lives One Fair At A Time" - our Fair folks are our "Super Heroes" that serve their community and DO change lives every day,” she added.

She pointed out that “our January/February Fairs had a mixture of higher and slightly lower attendance figures though we do not keep those statistics.”

As always, “weather plays a big part, there were slow spots for some fairs and fuel prices are starting to creep up. But the direction fairs are going in Florida is very good. Fairs are relevant to their community, and that mindset is strong at the convention and that felt very good.”
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