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State Fair functions in increasingly competitive world

State Fair functions in increasingly competitive world

August 6th, 2013 in News

In its early days, Missouri's State Fair was a September event.

Then, for many years, it began on the third Thursday of August.

But this year's fair, like others in the past decade, begins Thursday - the second Thursday of the month.

"Schools just keep getting earlier and earlier in their start-dates," Fair Commission member Lowell Mohler said recently, "and that makes - probably, long-term - more difference to the fair than anything else."

Noting a lot of the schools start the Tuesday during the fair, he said the first weekend draws huge crowds of FFA and 4-H students.

"If we have a good Friday, Saturday and Sunday that first week, we're going to have a good Fair. That's just the way it works," Mohler said.

"The last Friday and Saturday are important, too."

Tuesday is the slowest day, with Wednesday pretty close behind, he said

The move to the earlier start-date created another problem for the Missouri Fair's administrators.

"We're on the same circuit as Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky," Mohler noted, "We really have to coordinate things a lot better than we ever did before."

Another benefit can be entertainment events - like this year's Toby Keith concert on Aug. 16.

"The only way we got him was," Mohler said, "he was in Iowa the next day and he was in Springfield, Ill., the day before. So we had a day where we could run that schedule."

But Mohler doesn't want people to think running a state fair involves only headaches.

He said Missouri's Fair has adapted to challenges and has been improving in recent years.

"There was a period where I wondered - every year the Fair was going down in attendance, in physical condition," he said. "And nothing off-season - we virtually closed the Fairgrounds."

Now, Mohler said, "Every day, there's something going on there.

"It may only be a family reunion or an auction of some sort."

There also are meetings and exhibitions, and animal shows outside the Fair's 11-day run.

And there are some "big ticket items" each year, Mohler said, like "the largest African-American camper rally in the United States. We've got a great off-season team that really works hard at making that schedule.

"And that's where our money really comes from to make this fair successful year-after-year."

Missouri's Fair gets very little money from taxpayers.

"We operate on about a $41⁄2 million budget," Mohler said, "and we get from the state about $420,000 a year.

"You look at the sales taxes generated during the Fair, and it far offsets any costs to taxpayers."

Fair operations also have improved in recent years, he said, thanks to corporate sponsorships.

For instance, the Grandstand where concerts and the popular tractor pulls are held has, for a number of years, officially been the "Pepsi Grandstand."

One thing that hasn't changed over the years - each year's Fair has a theme.

"Chicks dig it" is this year's theme.

The idea came from a child's artwork, showing baby chickens playing with a boy.

But it's also a pun, of sorts.

"We have a special recognition of women in agriculture," Mohler said. "We're making a special effort this year to highlight a lot of the women, and the role they play in agriculture."

Women's role in agriculture hasn't been ignored in the past, he said, but it hasn't always been celebrated.

"I think it's time we did that," Mohler said. "It's really appropriate."

This year's Fair runs from Aug. 8-18.