More is what attendees to the 2017 International Independent Showmen's Foundation (IISF) Trade Show and Extravaganza can expect.
The first premier event of the year for the mobile amusement industry, this annual gathering in Gibsonton, Fla., will feature an extensive exhibitor showcase, an in-depth H-2B visa seminarand a hands-on food safety handling certification workshop.
What augurs best for the fair industry beginning the 2017 season has been a significant uptick in the number of new rides on display this year. According to Teresa Rimes, Trade Show Secretary for the IISA, about half a dozen or more ride companies were booking outdoor exhibit spaces. Ride companies usually send representatives to the event, even during the economic downturn, but there had been a drop of
f in companies also exhibiting rides.
In fact, this uptick coincides with an overall increase in exhibitors. "Right now, we have more contracts for exhibitors than last year," said Rimes, who spoke with Carnival Warehouse in early January. IISA has two exhibition areas - the outdoor grounds where ride companies generally congregate and an indoor exhibition hall - and Rimes said that the 2017 increase in exhibiting companies is occurring in both the outdoor and enclosed sections of the trade show.
However, most noticeable is the jump in ride purveyors and their product. "There will be more ride exhibitors than last year and ride exhibitors with pieces for the first time or more pieces than last year," said Rimes.
While reluctant to comment on the causes or implications of this development, she did say "it's a trend that means business is better," she said. "The companies have the equipment to display this year, and obviously they think that Gibtown is the place to show their pieces. "
Ross Owen, president of Owen Trailers is one of those companies exhibiting more then one mechanical rides at the 2017 IISA after a hiatus of about 10 years. The two new Owen rides will be a new fun house - "Infernal Combustion" and a Dark Ride. He emphasizes that the impact of the proliferation of new rides the 2017 event will likely not be completely felt until 2018.
"This show is for next year, you're laying the groundwork for sales for delivery next year," said Owen. "What you display in Gibtown is what you have available. The carnivals come there to actually see the ride, they're researching what they want to buy and are starting to plan for it, and by March or so they'll have their financing together and that's when they will begin placing the orders."
Most of the rides exhibited will actually be presented to fairgoers for the next season, although the actual rides exhibited have already been sold and after the show will be delivered on the buyer's 2017 route. Exhibiting rides not only adds to the value of the ride - it indicates that another midway provider believes in the ride - but also gives industry observer a sense of the emerging trends.
"What people will be seeing are completely re-themed rides, with new fronts and new LED packaging: said Owen. "The difference in the fair business is that it is more of a 12 month a year business, and people go from Gibtown right to starting their season, which is why they are already planning for next year. But it is still an important conclave where people get together and they definitely want to see the new rides, the refurbished rides, the new lighting packages."
Fair and carnival professionals tend be optimistic, Rimes pointed out, even during economic hard times. But with the economy improving and a contentious presidential election completed, "there are signs that the industry is moving forward and hoping for a good season."
Not all the new action will be outside. In the enclosed exhibition hall, there will be more "plush and novelty" vendors - always the largest category of exhibitors in this venue. "But we will have more food equipment companies in that area, they seem to be increased, and more wrap companies, wrap is the hottest trend right now," said Rimes. "Everyone wants their equipment wrapped. We are also seeing more LED light suppliers."
The rise in exhibitors is not just a sign of an optimistic and prosperous fair circuit. It is also an indication of a revitalization of the convention and tradeshow industry. "The internet has hurt this show and hurt all meetings and conventions," she said.
However, the teleconferencing trend and online product research seems to have lost some appeal when it comes to carnival companies investing in their ride inventory.
"You cannot get the feel of a ride just by looking at a picture. You have to ride, try it out, look at in person. Companies will be unveiling new equipment again in Gibtown this year."
Events scheduled for the IISA trade show also include the 7th Annual Big Hearted Jerry's Memorial Golf Tournament; the IISA Carnival Museum & Jamboree Fundraiser; and the Showmen's League of America's Social Gathering, and Jo Ann Arnold's Banquet and Ball - themed "Family Traditions." On the last day of the event, a trip to the Florida State Fair, sponsored by Wade Shows, the IISA, and the Outdoor Amusement Business Association (OABA), will be available to all attendees.
On the more serious side, a highlight of the IISF event is the annual H-2B seminar. This program, an update on the status of the H-2B visa program and a forecast of what lays ahead in 2017, is one of the most crucial education events for the fair industry of the new year. Entitled "Strategies for Survival: The Future of The H-2B Program" the talk a joint presentation by JKJ Work Force and the OABA.
Besides informing attendees on the nuts and bolts of the process, the program will explore many of potential changes with informed speculation by a panel of experts.
Presenters at the five hour seminar include: James K. Judkins, president of JKJ Work Force, Leon Sequiera, Attorney Specializing in H-2B Visas, Former Under Secretary of Labor in the George W, Bush Administration; Wayne Pierce, OABA Attorney Specializing in the Mobile Entertainment Business including Seasonal Work Visas; and Michael Woods, OABA Chairman of the Foreign Labor Committee.
Seminar Topics include: Complete & Accurate Filing; Documentation & Compliance; Employer Obligations; How to Handle a Surprise Inspection by the Wage & Hour Investigators; What is Staggered Entry?; Protecting the Employer - Worker Relationship; Recruitment of US Workers - Year-Round Priority; Strategies for Getting Suppliers & Fair Boards Behind Your Effort.
As a seminar description states: "The assumption of the H-2B community was that as soon as a Republican President took office, the madness with the H-2B program would end. With the election of Trump, the resurgence of Making America Great, Build the Wall, Jobs for Americans in America, and the merging of interests of the far right with the far left on Immigration, it is going to be a bigger battle than any of us imagined moving forward on many fronts."
Last year, a crisis in the H-2B program ensued when the Department of Labor delayed processing visas, causing a procedure to go from seven-to-10 days to 60-90 days, resulting in many carnival companies scrambling for workers in the early part of the season.
The outlook for this year is more positive, "there's enough visas to go around," said Judkins. "There is a cap, but companies should be getting the same amount of workers they need."
The more pressing concern is how the new Trump administration will address foreign workers. The fear is that the anti-immigration rhetoric can be turned into policies negatively impacting the foreign worker program. Judkins is optimistic, pointing out that despite all the wall building talk, "Trump said the wall would have a big wide opening for people coming into the country legally, and I feel we can take him at his word because the H-2B program is about workers who come here legally."
But the reality is that everything is just speculation at this point. "We do not know what is going to happen, but in the end, laws are written by Congress," said Judkins. He strongly recommends that carnival operators meet with their members of congress. "We are trying to find a solution instead of lurching from crisis to crisis," he said. "If every single H-2B employer met with their member of congress, it would be helpful, because people don't understand the issues. It's important to let them know that carnival companies are not the bogey man. We made progress last year and a lot of carnivals do have a relationship with their member of congress, but more needs to be done of course."
Visas are not the only industry issue to be addressed at the IISA trade show with a hands-on educational program. Food safety will take center stage in the safe food handling program presented by Dominic Cianciola, educational director for Last Call Training.
This year's "Food Safety Handling Workshop" will be available for four days of the event. Those completing the half-day course of study received their National Food Safety Manager certification by the National Registry of Food Service Professionals. A record of this certification will be made available online, accessible to state and local health inspectors, who increasingly mandate food managers of food concessions at fairs and other outdoor events to have earned this certification.
The certification is recognized in all 50 states and Cianciola said that the 2017 course covers the latest FDA regulations. "There are recommendations about food allergens, and awareness of procedures to avoid cross contact during food preparation, which leads to cross contamination," he said, adding that new recommendations that will be covered include new heating temperatures and water and ice handling.
"They have been tightening down on potable water sources and following procedures for water sources for making ice cubes."
Health inspectors are on the alert for outbreaks of Shigella, a bacteria-based disease similar to salmonella that has been borne by flies. New handling recommendations require modifications for screens and servings window to food trucks and other equipment. "The enforcement has gotten very tight and the state and local health departments and inspectors are very strict in terms of regulations and enforcement."
Complying with the latest regulations may be the paramount motivation for taking this course, but having a certified staff also improves the worker morale and overall operations. "We are finding that with the work force of carnival companies and concessionaires, they gain self esteem by being trained in safe food handling, it helps the manager retain long term employees because they feel part of a team."
From new rides to the latest information about critical industry issues, the 2017 IISF trade show is shaping up to be a must-attend industry milestone. "There will absolutely be more companies and attendees in Gibtown this year," said Rimes. "People in the industry know they have to come to Gibtown."
2017 IISF Trade Show Coverage