Regional Fairs Meet in Grand Island


How do you make a county or state fair better? Organizers say one way is learn from others.

With fair season just around the corner, hundreds of representatives from county and state fairs in five states are in Grand Island trading tips.

The International Association of Fairs and Expositions (IAFE) Zone 5 Regional Conference has a lot of new topics to talk about since this is the first time it's been held in Nebraska since the State Fair moved.

Nebraska State Fair officials are showing off the grounds to the around 300 of their counterparts in attendance. They aren't just talking food and fun, but also volunteers, livestock, insurance, and marketing.

"We share notes constantly – what works, what doesn't work, how have you done it, how we've done it, we pass a lot of information back and forth," says Chelsey Jungck, NSF's Events and Entertainment Director and conference coordinator.

The Zone 5 meeting includes a full day of workshops and panels for state and county fair leaders from Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, and Kansas.

"Whether you are a big fair or a small fair, all the issues are always the same," says Jeremy Parsons, Manager of the Clay County Fair in Spencer, Iowa. "It's always the same challenges, just bigger or smaller."

The head of the Kansas State Fair – General Manager Denny Stoecklein – says they're talking to others about successes and failures in getting more technology involved at the fair.

"We need to be able to accept credit and debit cards more readily for instance, and just make sure we're transitioning into the future with what future generations will expect," says Stoecklein.

"People entering exhibits, or even buying tickets online, just better ways to incorporate technology, and I know that's a goal we have and I think a lot of fairs have," says Parsons.

Industry leaders say all eyes were on Nebraska in 2010 when the State Fair moved to Grand Island, and now as they see the facilities first hand, they say it's brought new ideas to the table.

"Most of ours has been there for 100 years, we've renovated extensively, but to be able to create something new gives you a neat perspective and opportunity of how things can be done as well," says Stoecklein.

It's not all about change – fair leaders say like Nebraska they want to keep mixing old and new.

"That's something we work on industry-wide, I think every fair faces that challenge to balance incorporating new things, being innovative, and then keeping a little bit of tradition and some of your tried-and-true favorites," says Jungck.

People at the conference say the fair industry is unique in a lot of ways, but one example is the openness with which they share information. They say they aren't out to compete with each other or steal secrets, but everyone wants the best fair possible, no matter the size.