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Florida Federation of Fairs Honor Hal Porter, Discuss Safety & Launch Strategic Plan Initiative
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Florida Federation of Fairs
Back L to R: Tim Lovett, Florida Strawberry Festival, Jim Ward, Pasco County Fair, Terry Atchley, Hardee County Fair, Danny Alfonso, Manatee County Fair, Bill Olson, Greater Jacksonville Fair, Jay Spicer, St. Lucie County Fair, Brad Matchett, Dan West. Front: l to r: Eddie Cora, Miami-Dade County Youth Fair, Suzanne Holcomb, Greater Hillsborough County Fair, Cheryl Flood, Florida State Fair, Fran Crone, SW FL & Lee County Fair, Tasha Hyder, Clay County Fair, Jodi Buresh, Saffire, Lisa Kelley, Hendry County Fair.

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The  2024 Florida Federation of Fairs annual convention saw an increase in attendance and an increasingly optimistic state industry. But the association and its membership took the opportunity to celebrate Hal Porter, who died earlier this year. Porter, manager of the Citrus County Fair, was elected president of the Florida Federation of Fairs for 2023-24 and as president selects the convention's theme, which Porter selected a month before he passed -- “Cowboy Up”

“Hal had selected the theme at our December board meeting,” said Dan West, Executive Director, FFF. “The President's Party was a tribute to Hal who was had been the longtime manager of the Citrus County Fair in Inverness.  Hal was a Florida Cowboy and a devoted supporter of Florida 4-H.”

“It was bitter sweet,” admitted Fran Crone, Fair Manager, Southwest Florida & Lee County Fair. “When you pick the theme, our committee comes up with the graphics and the President's Party was pulled together nicely. It was a good gala and it was in Hal's honor, and he was a cowboy, a true country gentleman.

Record-Breaking Days

The Florida Federation of Fairs is comprised of 45 member fairs, 30 of whom were represented at the annual convention, held May 16-18 at the Caribe Royale Hotel in Orlando. More than 600 attended the meeting, a higher turnout than 2023, indicating a very upbeat membership. “The 2023-24 fair season did very well in Florida,” said West. “Several fairs had record-breaking days and for the most part weather was not a major factor.”

“The attitude of the attendees was very good,” said Crone. “Everyone enjoyed being together and discussing fair issues.  Florida fair folks always like being together and having a good time while preparing for the upcoming fair season. People are happy to be there, the convention was bigger than it has ever been.”

Top-of-mind for attendees was fair safety and security. Nationwide, fairs both large and small have been plagued by disruptive teens, especially in Florida where brawls, stampedes and rowdy behavior at the Florida State Fair, South Florida and other Florida events captured viral headlines this year and last. At least three educational sessions were devoted to the topic, organized by the FFF's Safety and Security Committee. Crone said the sessions focused on practical solutions to this serious issue. “The workshops emphasized looking at your grounds, creating barriers that are aesthetically pleasing but offer safety and minimize crowds,” she said. “There's no one solution and we discussed many topics. There was a lot of brainstorming. Many fairs now only allow clear bags to be carried into the fair, and those fairs shared that information on how to implement that procedure.”

Another safety issue and one more exclusive to Florida was the new “permit-less” Open to Carry Law, signed by Governor Ron DeSantis last year, allowing all adults to bear arms without a special permit. How this affects the Sunshine State's fair industry is still uncertain because while some fairgrounds are allowed to ban firearms, many are not. “What can be enforced depends on who owns the property,” she said. “We had a panel discussion on it because there are some limitations in the law that not everyone is aware of.  Every fair is handling it differently.”
The main thrust of the educational programming was in keeping with the Agricultural mission of most Florida fairs. “The most popular topics were on growing the agricultural programs, enhancing those programing in the community. Fairs have the rides and the food and the entertainment, but we're really about agriculture, the 4-H and FFA programs. The fairs depend on education and the future of farming.”

 Wilton Simpson, the Florida Agriculture Commissioner, spoke at the Opening Session via zoom. Crone noted that Simpson, “comes from a fair background, and he's always been a great supporter of fairs.” In addition, Florida Senator Ben Albritton. Florida Farm Bureau President, Jeb Smith, and IAFE President & CEO, Marla Calico, also attended the Opening Session.

Future Forward

The tradeshow exhibition had 135 booths (last year was 115). “There were more ticket companies, a graphics companies, even a golf-cart company,” said Crone. “People are realizing that fairs are growing and you are seeing growth in those categories servicing Florida Fairs. There were also new insurance companies this year.”

West added, “There were 14 showcases throughout the convention.  There were bands, strolling acts and stage acts included.”

The FFF is also undergoing a changing of the guard, as evidenced by large presence of the younger generation of fair professionals. “For lack of a better term, we're losing a lot of our older heroes, like Hal. Fair mangers and board members are beginning to retire, and now there's an influx of newer managers, CEOs, COOs, those sort of positions. Personally I am glad to see these kids are up and coming, and they are bringing new and different ideas that we all are learning from. They're an important piece of the puzzle. We want to make sure they have the tools they need to move us forward.”
New ideas and directions are the cornerstones of Crone's presidential agenda. She's been tasked with two main objective.  One is “clarifying” the Federation's Mission Statement – nonprofits regularly revisit and update their mission statements every few years.

The second objective is interrelated to the mission statement clarification – a new Strategic Plan for the Florida Federation of Fairs. “We are looking at everything we do, how fairs work with 4-H, FFA, even legislatively. We advocate, we educate and we participate and there are a lot of things we need to do be able to do, that we need our members to do, so we can better respond to our communities.”

“The 2023-24 fair season was a good one here in Florida,” said West. “Having gone to many of them, there were large crowds and the weather was seasonable for the events. They are coming off a good year and have high hopes for another year on the horizon. Everyone leaves the convention pumped and ready to go to work.  I'm sure the fairs are excited about bringing another fun fair season for the citizens of Florida.”

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