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New Executive Director Gives Western Fair Association a REMIX
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Remix refers to the production of a new version of an existing recording of music. For the first time in more than three decades, the Western Fair Association (WFA) had a new Executive Director presiding over its annual convention but it wasn't just a new person at the helm of this multistate association that changed. The organization has revamped its bylaws and other critical aspects, the convention both presented and implemented these changes, making REMIX a most apt convention theme indeed.

Stephen Chambers, the WFA's 30+ year Executive Director,retired after the 2018 convention – he announced his retirement at the closing of the 2017 convention and the WFA Board of Directors formed a Search Committee headed, hiring Ralph Andersen & Associates to assist in the recruitment process. Sarah Cummings, most recently General Manager of the Colorado State Fair eventually won the job and much of her time in the months preceding the annual convention was spent planning the REMIX – both in the meeting and the organizational sense of the term.

Her first act of course was selecting the theme of REMIX. “My thought behind the theme was that we were reworking the association with a new Executive Director and some other changes. We were mixing the old and traditional with a little freshness and REMIX was a nod to that freshness.”

New & Fresh 

The freshness was most apparent in the “remixing” of many of the events within the convention, such creating a “fun vibe” with a “new party format” for the President's Reception, adding an entertainment showcase into the format so attendees “could shop available acts” while also networking with other fairs, as well as augmenting the Silent Auction, a fundraiser for the organization, with a wine and cheese party. “We coupled reception with the fairs with entertainment,” she said. “It was new and fresh and people enjoyed it.”

She added, “The showcase really had the best of regional entertainment and it served the purpose being both entertaining and showcasing entertainers to the fairs. It was a mix of pop and country and types of music, it was a great breadth of entertainment and really fit the mold of our fairs.” 

The convention also featured a video showcase – where entertainment acts presented video clips – as part of the tradeshow floor. There were 140 exhibition booths as well as four concession trailers – “up slightly from last year,” said Cummings. 

One of the most notable of the new exhibitors was an actual “train that was onsite that drive around the fairgrounds,” she said. “There were several new Insurance agencies and ticketing companies. Online ticketing is growing for fairs, I would say that is the new trend, many fairs are adding or upgrading their online ticketing and technologies.” 

REMIX – plus the chance to meet the new Executive Director – seemed to be the needed ingredient – to entice western fair professionals to the annual gathering. More than 1,320 professionals attended the event, significantly higher than last year's convention, according to Cummings. The WFA consists of 135 fairs – 77 of which are California Fairs – plus 10 festivals, 450 Fair vendors, 10 Festivals, 12 Affiliate members, 9 Fair Associations, 67 Fair Foundations, and 4 Government Agencies. Total membership exceeds 800 individuals, which also includes fair board directors.

The convention attendance uptick can be attributed to the internal makeover Cummings has been spearheading. “We had a long standing figurehead and now there was a new head and that brought more people because of their curiosity. People were wondering who is going to replace Steve. We've also made structural and operational changes to the association. We are organizationally stronger. We also had changes to the bylaws. People wanted to know about the changes.”


Funding Restoration 

One of the leading top-of-mind topics for most of WFA members was the pending restoration of state government funding for California Funding. Cummings, who served on the board of the California Fairs Alliance Boards, is a Golden State native.  Before moving to Colorado fairs, she served as CEO at both the Salinas Valley Fair and the Sonoma-Marin Fair. She said that this has been a long-time goal ever since the funding was eliminated in 2011. “California fairs lost all their funding,” she explained. “The WFA has always had the goal of securing the funding, and the fairs are thrilled.”

According to Cummings, the details of the restoration of the funding were still being worked out at the time of the convention, “but it has been reestablished and should be available by July. The funds are for much needed operational and infrastructure support.” 

H-2B Instruction

Besides the governmental support returning to California fair, the other leading issue discussed at the convention was the H-2B crisis. The WFA – in conjunction with the Outdoor Amusement Business Association (OABA) and JKJ Work Force, one of the fair industry's leading Foreign Labor Consultant and Facilitator Firms – has taken a proactive role in enlisting fair support for midway providers, carnival companies and concessionaires in ensuring the industry has a stable workforce. “The temporary employment visa program is in trouble and we are trying to disseminate to our members the potential for staff problems for their fairs,” she said. “One of my focal points is industry unity. The issue may not be specifically for fairs, but it affects the whole industry, and getting support for the issue will only strengthen all fairs.” 

The WFA convention featured two specific sessions dedicated to H-2B, with the duel objectives of exploring the current complexities of the issue for fairs and instructing them on how to network with politicians and other influential community leaders in order to garner support for the program. “Our fairs were shocked by the severity of the current situation,” she said. “We are communicating that severity throughout our membership.”

In other organizational news, the WFA new slate of officers were sworn in – President – Judy Carrico, Alameda County Fair; Vice President – Cliff Munson, Siskiyou County Fair; Treasurer – Eric Wofford, Yuma County Fair. Featured Contest Awards were given to Napa Valley Expo, Alameda, San Diego, and Marin County Fairs. The Stanislaus County Fair received People's Choice; The Barham Award was given to Nathan & Stephanie Janousek; Merrill Awards were received by Lake County Fair and Marin County Fair.

Management Styles

For Cummings, becoming the head of the largest regional fair association in the U.S. has been the latest milestone for this fair veteran who first became involved with fairs in high school with agricultural exhibits. In her professional career, she worked in fair management. How does fair management compare to fair association management? 

“There are so many similarities, but it is a different role,” She said. “You have to ensure the right decisions are made. To take this position as a leader of western fairs is a huge honor, and comes with a great position. The difference is that our fairs are so diverse, and have so many different member segments. Fairs are a great way to give back to their own communities and they offer those communities traditional entertainment, whether it's a concert, or a carnival ride or being entertained by strolling through a local art show or livestock and agriculture exhibits.”

Next year the WFA celebrates its 100 year anniversary and planning the centennial convention will be a top agenda item for her first full-term as Executive Director. “We are planning a very strong convention. I hope to bring in more technology and uses of technology for fairs. I hope to bring in more touches of technology. I like to consider western fairs as visionaries and problem solvers. Our fairs are strong. We had a great Convention, with attendees leaving looking forward to the year ahead. Great networking and programming helped with the overall positive feelings of attendees.”
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